Dre Greenlaw

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.

Dre Greenlaw still will play vital 49ers role with Kwon Alexander back

Dre Greenlaw still will play vital 49ers role with Kwon Alexander back

SANTA CLARA – Dre Greenlaw gave the 49ers last week off. The rookie linebacker’s perfect goal-line tackle secured an NFC West title, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

That moment in Seattle never will be forgotten, etched into 49ers lore as one of the best defensive plays in this storied franchise’s history.

Greenlaw isn’t walking around with his chest puffed out, flashing his badge of honor some two weeks later. He isn’t living in that moment, instead re-packaging it in a way that can be applied to what comes next.

“It’s just a tackle that was a big deal because it was a game-winner,” Greenlaw said. “Hopefully we don’t have to make a lot of those moving forward. But, if it comes down to it in a big moment where we have to get a stop or make a big tackle, I have faith in Freddie and Kwon and myself to make that play. We’re going to go out there and hunt and tackle and hit people hard.”

Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander and Dre Greenlaw will be hunting Vikings during Saturday’s divisional-round playoff against Minnesota at Levi’s Stadium, the first time in forever all three guys will be on the field at the same time.

The linebacking corps has been a man down since Alexander tore his pectoral muscle in Week 9. That injury’s normally a season-ender, but Alexander has rallied, recovered and will come off injured reserve in time to play the Vikings.

“Getting Kwon back is just what our linebackers needed,” Greenlaw said. “He has helped me and Azeez [Al-Shaair] and a lot of the young guys. We know how he’s going to play. He has that great energy and passion. He loves to hunt. He loves the run. Getting him back now is perfect timing.”

Alexander missed eight games, which could’ve led to a defensive disaster. Greenlaw didn’t let that happen and deserves a pat on the back.

“I don't think it gets talked about enough, honestly,” Warner said. “Dre coming in for Kwon, we’ve asked a lot of him throughout the weeks. The game plan's always changing. He's stayed steady. It's never perfect. It's never perfect for anybody. I think just how he's floating around to the ball. He has made the hits he's supposed to make and just been solid. Props to my guy.”

Alexander’s return doesn’t instantly make Greenlaw an understudy. The high-priced veteran isn’t expected to play every snap in his return to action, meaning Greenlaw still could be a three-down linebacker Saturday afternoon.

The Arkansas product is ready for anything, even if it means moving back and forth from the strong side to the weak side based on the package and if Alexander rotates out more than he normally would.

“In this defense, some of the things you do at WILL you also do at SAM and vice versa,” Greenlaw said. “If you’re going to play one linebacker position you’d better know the others. It would be easy switch up if I have to go from one position to another.”

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Greenlaw’s comfortable in any role, at any linebacker position. That’s important as the 49ers work Alexander back into a lineup that’s better than when he left it. Greenlaw’s development makes that a fact.

“Any time you have to play that many snaps, you learn so much through experience,” Greenlaw said. “You pick little things up as the season goes on and you start to make better reads. You start learning the defense better, too. Second-string practice reps are limited. You might only get 15 a day, but when you’re that guy and you’re getting 35 to 40 reps in practice and 60 in a game, you can really make progress.”

Kwon Alexander is back but 49ers do not expect him to play every snap

Kwon Alexander is back but 49ers do not expect him to play every snap

SANTA CLARA – Linebacker Kwon Alexander will be back on the field Saturday when the 49ers open the playoffs, but he likely won't step into his old every-down role quite yet.

Alexander is just nine weeks removed from surgery to repair a torn pectoral. He returned to practice last week and remains on injured reserve. The 49ers plan to activate him to the 53-man roster to play Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings at Levi’s Stadium in the NFC divisional round.

The 49ers know what to expect from Alexander. But they also do not know exactly what to expect.

“I know Kwon will fly around,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area. “He’ll hit. He’ll be energetic. He’ll get everyone going. I think everyone will feel his energy on the field. And we’ll see how it goes.

“We’re not going to throw him out there, just down-in and down-out. But we don’t have a plan, where it’s only going to be ‘this’ amount. He’s looked good in practice, but we’re also not laying people out in practice.”

Rookie Dre Greenlaw played the weakside linebacker position during the second half of the season in Alexander’s absence. Greenlaw made the big defensive play of the season in Week 17 when he stopped Seattle Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister just inches short of the goal line on a late-game fourth-down play. The tackle preserved the 49ers' 26-21 win and wrapped up the NFC West and home-field advantage in the playoffs.

The 49ers’ three linebacker positions are similar, so the team will have some decisions to make on how they want to use Greenlaw and Alexander alongside middle linebacker Fred Warner. Shanahan said a lot of the team’s in-game decision-making will be in reaction to Alexander’s effectiveness.

“You got to wait to see how the tackling goes and how he feels,” Shanahan said. “(He is) someone we’ll be communicating with throughout the game.”

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Alexander and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt are expected back in the starting lineup Saturday. Tartt missed the final four games of the regular season with fractured ribs. The 49ers also are hoping defensive end Dee Ford is fully back from a hamstring injury that limited him to just four snaps in the final six games. Ford’s status remains uncertain, as he appeared to show some signs of fatigue Wednesday after a heavier workload in practice Tuesday.

“All three of them are a little bit different,” Shanahan said. “Some guys have been out for a while. You never want to put them back in there too much. It’s a little unfair to them even if they are ready to go because you got to go through some mistakes when you’re just a little bit rusty, and that can be tough on a guy, especially at this time.”