The 49ers came from behind and earned a 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive, despite the fact that San Francisco committed three turnovers and quarterback Nick Mullens didn't throw a single touchdown pass.
That's typically a poor recipe against a team as talented and balanced as the Rams, but the 49ers were able to overcome it thanks in large part to a standout performance by a still-shorthanded defensive unit. San Francisco forced four Los Angeles turnovers, limited Rams quarterback Jared Goff to just 198 yards passing and sacked him twice.
In the first half, the Rams couldn't get anything going. And when they started gaining momentum in the second, the 49ers' defense came up with several timely and clutch answers. Simply put, the 49ers don't win that game if the defense doesn't come up huge. And yet, that's what we've come to expect from Robert Saleh's unit.
The 49ers' defensive coordinator has been a popular name thrown around for multiple head coach openings over the last couple years, and particularly so following San Francisco's run to Super Bowl LIV. The 49ers' defense hasn't been as dominant this season as it was last, but that's certainly due to the terrible injury luck the team has experienced, and Saleh is expected to be a popular candidate for head-coach openings again this coming offseason.
Performances like the one the 49ers' defense had against the Rams will only enhance Saleh's candidacy, and San Francisco's head coach knows it. But while Kyle Shanahan likely looks forward to going head-to-head against his current defensive coordinator someday, he wouldn't mind if the growing number of teams who have head-coach openings didn't tune in to watch any more 49ers' games.
"I'm always concerned," Shanahan said of potentially losing Saleh to another head-coaching job following the win over the Rams. "You never want to lose Saleh. I never want to lose any of our coaches, to tell you the truth. I thought he deserved one last year, so, whether this game happened or not, it's a matter of time before he becomes one. I keep telling him, 'Don't get mad at me,' because I know he's going to be one eventually. I hope he stays here as long as possible. He needs to be in no rush. So hopefully people don't figure it out, and he stays here for a little bit."
The 49ers' playoff hopes are still alive, and if they're going to qualify for the postseason, the defense surely will have to lead the way. And if that's how it works out, Shanahan and Saleh surely will be jumping for joy together -- quite possibly for the last time.