The 49ers were running to the left. All indicators were there on second down late in the third quarter, with the right guard pulling left and the halfback aiming to slot right behind him.
New York Giants defenders followed those clues to a perceived point of attack.
Turns out they bit. Hard.
Quarterback Nick Mullens faked that handoff. He actually gave it off it to Brandon Aiyuk, running in the opposite direction. The rookie receiver hit the edge and turned upfield to find three blockers and a lone defender before him. It was a painless 19-yard jaunt into the end zone, one that was more about coach than player.
Kyle Shanahan is a master of manipulation, at times knowing with absolute certainty how those outside his control will react to a superficially simple sleight of hand.
We saw that on a touchdown play expertly called, expertly executed.
“Kyle always puts us in the best positions,” Aiyuk said. “That’s something I have learned quickly. When that play was called, I was expecting it to be explosive.”
Turns out it was worth more than six points. It was a decisive blow, one that broke the Giants’ back. The 49ers scored three unanswered touchdowns to secure a 36-9 victory despite an injury list too long and distinguished to be believed.
Imagine dominating without George Kittle, Richard Sherman, Deebo Samuel, Nick Bosa, Raheem Mostert, Jimmy Garoppolo, Tevin Coleman and Solomon Thomas. Seems like a fever dream.
Here’s a dose of reality: Shanahan’s mind both is healthy and strong.
Sometimes, that (and a little depth) is all you need.
The 40-year-old son-of-a-coach is an excellent play caller, excellent motivator and someone who often gets a lot out of a little. He obviously created an expert game plan for beating the Giants. He also got his team to confidently play on the same MetLife Stadium turf that billy-clubbed the 49ers just days before. The 49ers crossed caution tape, onto the scene of the crime, and played their asses off despite flags at half-staff. That in itself if no small feat.
“That starts with our head coach and how he commands us, how he commands himself,” right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “That started in meetings and once you hit the practice field after hours of install, you have confidence in the game plan.”
To say the game plan and its execution was excellent is an understatement. The 49ers didn’t punt. They had three takeaways and no turnovers. The Giants never reached the red zone. The 49ers scored touchdowns four times in six trips inside the opposing 20.
That, my friends, is dominance. And it was done largely without star power. The brightest light, right now at least, shines from the sideline.
That can carry the 49ers through a soft spot in the schedule, until reinforcements come back off injured reserve. They’ll eventually need elite talent to help them reach expectations, but Sunday’s win tells the world, and the locker room, that the 49ers are still alive, kicking and dangerous.
“We’re all we’ve got,” middle linebacker Fred Warner said. “We’re all we need.”