Three things to know from 49ers' 44-33 win over top defense in the NFL

Three things to know from 49ers' 44-33 win over top defense in the NFL

SANTA CLARA -- Three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 44-33 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16 on Sunday:

Rookies typically wear down late in the NFL season due to the increase in the number of games over college football. But the 49ers’ first-year players appear to be peaking late in the season.

After such players as draft picks Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster, Ahkello Witherspoon, George Kittle and Trent Taylor helped put the 49ers in position to win, it was undrafted running back Matt Breida who supplied the finishing touch.

Breida took a pitch from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and flashed his speed to get around the left corner en route to a 30-yard game-clinching touchdown run with 1:24 remaining for the 10-point victory.

Kittle and Taylor added touchdown catches from Garoppolo, and Witherspoon supplied one of the 49ers’ three interceptions of Blake Bortles, who entered Sunday as the hottest quarterback in the NFL.

Thomas, the No. 3 overall pick, and Foster played a role in shutting down Leonard Fournette, the No. 4 selection in the draft. Fournette gained just 48 yards on 18 rushing attempts for a meager 2.7-yard average.

The 49ers are building a lot of momentum going into the 2018 season, and the play of the rookies is a big reason it appears to be a program on the rise.

"A lot of it is new coaches, new players," Kittle said. "We are just really learning to come together as a team. I think we are finding our rhythm now. I feel like we are just clicking on offense, which is one thing we struggled with early. Our defense has been playing well all year. We were just struggling from the beginning, now we are just rolling. We are on a heater. I think we are going to stay that way."

Garoppolo faced his stiffest challenge since entering the 49ers’ starting lineup. Going up against the top defense in the league, Garoppolo made more than enough plays to enable the 49ers to pull off the upset over the AFC South champions.

"I thought he played very similar in this game that he has the last few games," Shanahan said. "He made the right reads for the most part, made the right throws. I’m sure there’s a couple he’d want to have back, just like any game. It was that he’s been very consistent.”

Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith during the week described this game as a “hat and T-shirt week” – alluding to the Jaguars’ intention to celebrate the division title in the 49ers’ stadium.

While the Tennessee Titans’ loss clinched the Jags’ championship, their hopes as the top seed in the AFC playoffs were extinguished with the loss to the 49ers. And Jacksonville did not appear to be much in the mood for a celebration before returning to the East Coast.

The Jacksonville defense leads the NFL in sacks and entered the game allowing a league-low 168.9 yards passing per game. The 49ers’ offensive line generally gave Garoppolo time to throw, and he was sacked just once. Garoppolo completed 21 of 30 pass attempts for 242 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think it was a good test for us, especially as an offense," Garoppolo said. "Our team overall responded. It was an overall team win today. Offense doing our part. Defense getting us field position. Special teams. It all came together really nice today. That’s what makes a good team. We’re moving in the right direction right now. It seems week by week we just keep getting better.”

Said left tackle Joe Staley, "Jimmy is playing great football for us at the quarterback position. It is probably the most important position in team sports. He is doing a terrific job out there. He raises all shifts up there and everybody is playing really good football right now. We have a close locker room. I am really proud to be a part of it. It is pretty special here.”

Garoppolo surpassed Hall of Famer Kurt Warner’s record for passing yards in his first four starts with a new team. Garoppolo has thrown for 1,250 yards with the 49ers. Warner had 1,217 yards passing in his first four starts with St. Louis Rams in 1999.

The 49ers (5-10) will take a four-game win streak into the season finale next week at the Los Angeles Rams.

Coach Kyle Shanahan was regarded as one of the best offensive coordinators in the league. And those skills were on display Sunday, as he put together a masterful game plan against the top-ranked Jacksonville defense.

The 49ers went with multi-receiver formations to spread out the Jacksonville defense. Shanahan kept the Jaguars off balance with a variety of quick passes and misdirection. Shanahan found the weaknesses in the Jaguars’ defense, which resulted in players running free all over the field in the passing game.

Garoppolo missed some of his throws, but he also made good on the key downs. The 49ers converted 10 of 15 on third downs for a remarkable 67-percent conversion rate.

The 49ers scored five offensive touchdowns against a defense that allowed just 14.9 points per game. After Jacksonville clawed back into the game in the final two minutes, Shanahan’s call for a pitch to Breida on a third-down play was well-timed and well-executed, resulting in a 30-yard touchdown run to seal the victory.

"The guys made their blocks and we had a strong feeling they’d be in man coverage and playing the run and daring us to throw, which you know you need to get a first down there because I believe they still had one timeout, so you can’t run the clock out," Shanahan said.

There could more of this kind of precision execution in the future as the 49ers get more acclimated to Shanahan’s system and the talent level on the roster improves.

49ers' Kyle Shanahan discusses 'unacceptable' Myles Garrett incident


49ers' Kyle Shanahan discusses 'unacceptable' Myles Garrett incident

If you’ve been avoiding the internet for the past 12 hours, you might have missed one of the most controversial incidents of the NFL season.

In Thursday night’s game between the Browns and Steelers, a physical game ended in an ugly fashion when, after a hit on Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph, Browns defensive end Myles Garrett responded to Rudolph charging the 6-foot-4, 271-pound lineman by swinging and hitting Rudolph in the head with his own helmet.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan hopes his team can learn from this situation, which has resulted in Garrett being suspended indefinitely through at least the rest of the season and playoffs if Cleveland qualifies.

"The main thing is you cannot lose your cool,” Shanahan said on KNBR’s “Murph and Mac” show. “It's a very physical game and stuff. To play in the physicality like that, guys go to some dark places, but you have to control that, and obviously, he didn't there, and it looked like he had no idea where he was.

"That's going to cost their team. They've got a really easy schedule going forward. He's one of the best players in this league. That was one of the complete, most unacceptable things that I've ever seen on tape."

Several 49ers players reacted on social media to the fracas at the end of Thursday night’s game, including a strong take from fullback Kyle Juszcyzk.

"Yeah, I think that bothered a lot of players," Shanahan said. "I mean, this is a very dangerous game, and it's dangerous enough just playing in the rules. For someone to do that, that's completely unacceptable, and I think anybody who was watching that, player, fan, anybody, I'd be very surprised if they don't feel that exact same way."

[RELATED: Why Myles Garrett's suspension is good news for Raiders]

I highly doubt we'll be seeing helmet swinging from any NFL players going forward, but especially not anyone wearing a 49ers uniform.

Fred Warner does it all for 49ers' defense in Kwon Alexander's absence


Fred Warner does it all for 49ers' defense in Kwon Alexander's absence

SANTA CLARA – Not only did the 49ers lose linebacker Kwon Alexander to a season-ending injury in Week 9, but linebacker Fred Warner did not play well that night against the Arizona Cardinals.

Warner responded Monday night with what 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh described as the best game of his two-year NFL career.

“I thought he was just on it,” Saleh said. “He played violent.”

Warner recorded 10 tackles, including the first two sacks of his career, and forced a fumble that DeForest Buckner scooped up and returned for a touchdown. He became the first player with that stat line since Chicago defensive lineman Akiem Hicks on Dec. 4, 2016.

Warner did it all for the 49ers’ defense in the club’s 27-24 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night at Levi's Stadium while taking on more responsibility with rookie Dre Greenlaw taking over for Alexander.

“That was really cool to watch, just him pick up the slack that we lost from Kwon and play with that much passion,” 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa said. “It’s fun to have him on the field.

“It was usually him calling the plays and Kwon being the energy guy. And now it’s him doing both. He calls the play. He gets us lined up. And he brings the energy, so he’s really important.”

Warner displayed his ability to rush the passer, which is a new look for the 49ers’ defense. Saleh said he believes the threat of Warner coming on blitzes will prove beneficial to the team’s defensive linemen.

“The most important thing for us is, by them having to account for him, especially using a lineman, is now you’ve got your four D-linemen in one-on-one situations, our four horses,” Saleh said. “If they’re in one-on-one situations, you’re pretty confident that one of them is going to win. They’ve got to bring in extra people to protect and now it’s are we blitzing or are we rushing four?

“It’s just a cat-and-mouse game. When you have to account for him, you’re freeing up your four horses in the one-on-one situations.”

[RELATED: Lynch frustrated by 49ers' receivers drops but won't panic]

Warner and the 49ers return to action against the Cardinals on Sunday at Levi's Stadium. The 49ers' defense had its worst game on Oct. 31 in a 28-25 victory over Arizona, a game in which Warner had two missed tackles. Saleh said he expects more performances from Warner like the one he had against the Seahawks.

"He had a very good game and now it goes back to consistency being the truest measure of performance. He’s got to go stack it up and do it again," Saleh said.