Rewatch five 49ers plays that defined regular season as NFL playoffs begin

Rewatch five 49ers plays that defined regular season as NFL playoffs begin

Four months ago, Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers took the field in Tampa Bay not knowing what lay ahead for the 2019 season.

Despite a sloppy first game from Garoppolo and the offense, the 49ers eked out a win in Tampa Bay, the start of what would be eight straight wins to open the season.

When the dust had settled and the regular season concluded, the 49ers sat as NFC West champions and the No. 1 seed in the conference at 13-3.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan's team will kick off their quest for the Super Bowl on Saturday when they face the Minnesota Vikings in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Levi's Stadium. Before the Niners get on the road to Miami, let's take a look back at five plays that defined their 13-3 regular season.

5. Pick Bosa

49ers rookie defensive end Nick Bosa was a force early on in the season. After battling through injuries during the first three weeks, Bosa exited the 49ers' Week 4 bye as a new man and terrorized opposing quarterbacks accordingly. Bosa tallied four sacks in the 49ers' first six games, and then had his true coming-out party in Week 7 when he recorded three sacks and this interception in a 51-13 pantsing of the Carolina Panthers at Levi's Stadium.

Good hands, Nick.

4. Third-and-16? No problem

Down the stretch they came and the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks were in a dead heat for the NFC West title. The 49ers also had their eyes on the No. 1 seed in the NFC but would need to beat the division-rival Los Angeles Rams to keep those hopes alive.

Tied at 31, the game seemed destined for overtime with the 49ers facing a third-and-16 from their own 31-yard line. Garoppolo had just converted on a third-and-16 three plays earlier, and this was no different. With the pressure bearing down on him, Garoppolo stepped up and threw a strike that Emmanuel Sanders hauled in to set up a game-winning field goal from Robbie Gould.

Icy throw.

3. 49ers survive Kyler scare

Fresh off their first loss of the season to the Seahawks and staring at a brutal remaining schedule, the 49ers needed to beat the Arizona Cardinals for the second time in three weeks in order to steady the ship.

Kyler Murray and the Cardinals jumped out to an early lead and the two teams traded blows in the second half. A 22-yard rushing touchdown from Kyler Murray gave the Cardinals a 26-19 lead with six minutes remaining. An ensuing interception by Garoppolo put the 49ers' backs against the wall, but the defense stood tall and got the ball back.

Garoppolo then led an eight-play, 65-yard drive that culminated in a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Wilson Jr. to give them the lead with 31 seconds remaining.

With games against the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints looming, the 49ers needed that W in their caps.

2. Kittle goes Beast Mode in The Big Easy

After suffering a hard-fought loss to the Ravens in Charm City, the 49ers headed to New Orleans for a showdown between the two best teams in the NFC.

The game featured countless lead changes, but the Saints appeared to have plunged a dagger into the 49ers' hearts when Drew Brees hit Tre'Quan Smith for an 18-yard touchdown to take a 46-45 lead.

The 49ers never say die, though, and next George Kittle delivered the signature moment of the season -- to that point.

On fourth-and-2 from their own 33-yard line, Garoppolo hit Kittle and the tight end raced down the sideline, dragging multiple Saints defenders before being brought down at the Saints' 28-yard line. A facemask penalty was tacked on, placing the 49ers at the New Orleans' 14-yard line, setting up Gould's 30-yard field goal.

This likely will be the most memorable play of the run, but we all know what No. 1 is ...

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1. A game of inches in the PNW

Week 17 saw the 49ers visit CenturyLink Field in a winner-take-all game against the Seahawks.

The 49ers dominated the first half, but Russell Wilson just kept coming. With the 49ers clinging to a 26-21 lead, the Seahawks marched down to the 1-yard line, on the precipice of a division title. A delay of game moved them back and after three unsuccessful attempts to get in the end zone, the 49ers needed one stop to secure the division crown and home-field advantage.

Wilson hit tight end Jacob Hollister but he immediately was hammered by rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw, brining him down inches short of the end zone.

Sixteen games down. Three more to go.

2020 NFL Draft: How DeForest Buckner could influence 49ers to trade down

2020 NFL Draft: How DeForest Buckner could influence 49ers to trade down

Whomever the 49ers select with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft will always be compared head-to-head against defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

Little attention will be paid to the contract sizes. Buckner is scheduled to make $21 million annually over the next four seasons, while the choice at No. 13 will check in at approximately $4 million per year over the length of his four-year deal.

This will always go down as a one-for-one trade, however misleading that might be. The 49ers sent Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for their first-round pick in the 2020 draft.

Generally, when teams trade a high-caliber, proven player with many years ahead of him, such as Buckner, they understandably want to parlay that move into acquiring multiple players.

Maybe it’s because of the value of adding two or more players while trading away one player. Maybe it’s because teams want to sidestep those head-to-head comparisons. Maybe they want to avoid placing undo pressure and expectations onto a rookie who has enough to worry about upon entering the NFL.

Most recently, the New England Patriots did this after receiving the 49ers’ pick at No. 43 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft in exchange for Jimmy Garoppolo.

Bill Belichick traded out of No. 43. The Patriots picked up a later selection in the second round in addition to a fourth-rounder. When the draft was over, the Patriots had made four trades involving the original pick and the picks acquired in trades. Good luck trying to figure out, exactly, which players the Patriots acquired in connection with the Garoppolo trade.

The 49ers did the same thing four years earlier after they traded Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs for second-round picks in the 2013 and 2014 drafts.

Then-49ers general manager Trent Baalke flipped those two draft selections in five players -- Tank Carradine, Corey Lemonier, Carlos Hyde and Chris Borland -- along with another trade that enabled them to acquire veteran wide receiver Stevie Johnson.

The 49ers will have plenty of options at different positions with the No. 13 overall pick. If they love a player in that spot, they will undoubtedly make their selection.

Nobody would be surprised if the 49ers address wide receiver, offensive tackle, cornerback and defensive line with any of their top selections.

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But if one or two targeted players are not there when it’s the 49ers’ turn to select in three weeks, they will almost assuredly look to bail out of No. 13. That would allow the 49ers to pick up more selections to take advantage of what is expected to be a deep draft at a number of different positions of need.

And it would also give the 49ers the opportunity to select more than one front-line starter to soften the blow of trading Buckner.

How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance

How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance

Merton Hanks owes his iconic celebration to a place where the air is sweet.

The former 49ers safety revealed to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco in the latest "49ers Insider Podcast" that Hanks' legendary "chicken dance" was not the inspiration for the Bluth family, but an ode to a famous felt figure (not Franklin).

Hanks sat down with his daughter to watch "Sesame Street" during the 1995 season when he saw Bert "Doin' The Pigeon."

"I thought, 'OK, well, let me play around with that," Hanks told Maiocco. "[After messing] around with it in practice, it popped up ... in the Dallas Cowboys game when Elvis Grbac [made] his first start and Jerry Rice had, like, an [81-yard touchdown] to kick things off. It kind of came out in that game."

Hanks picked up a fumble and returned it 38 yards to score within the first two minutes of the 49ers' 38-20 road win over the rival Cowboys on Nov. 12, 1995. San Francisco, then 11 weeks into its Super Bowl title defense after lifting the monkey off Steve Young's back the previous season, needed some swagger.

The "pigeon dance" provided it."Deion Sanders had left (for the Cowboys)," Hanks recalled. "Ricky Watters had left (for the Philadelphia Eagles). My contract was coming up, and we felt like our on-the-field product was pretty solid as far as play, but we needed something to differentiate ourselves."

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Hanks spent eight seasons with the 49ers, becoming synonymous with the dance over his final four.

His 31 interceptions are the fourth most in 49ers history, but the dance is what most fans remember. Hanks' jig even transcended football, when eventual Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal incorporated the celebration into his repertoire early in his eight-season stint with the Los Angeles Lakers.

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The 49ers embraced Hanks' era last season by wearing 1994-inspired throwback jerseys. Someone in San Francisco's secondary surely could do Hanks' dance this year, but we'll be left wondering one thing.

Can they also tell us how to get to "Sesame Street?"