K'Waun Williams

Why Richard Sherman's NFC title-sealing interception was so fitting

Why Richard Sherman's NFC title-sealing interception was so fitting

SANTA CLARA -- Richard Sherman plays left cornerback in the 49ers' defensive scheme. He doesn’t shadow receivers, but moved around a bit early in Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. He was tracking Davante Adams for a little while to give the Packers something else to think about, but he eventually locked in on the left.

He still matched up with Adams at times, including a fourth-quarter play where Adams beat him badly on a 65-yard bomb down the sideline.

That was a real rarity. Sherman doesn’t get targeted much, and almost never gets torched like that. But, as usual, the veteran cornerback had the last laugh.

He intercepted another deep volley intended for Adams that sealed a 37-20 victory over the Packers that sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

After a raucous postgame celebration where he got a little emotional, Sherman took us all through that play.

“They ran a corner post. We were in quarters coverage,” Sherman said. “I just kept running. I knew it wasn't necessarily my responsibility, but I knew he was going to take the shot there and go for the gusto. Just wanted to track the ball down, give us a chance. I was tracking. I thought it was kind of out of my reach for a while. I was going to go for the bat down. And, as I got my feet under me, I noticed I could get under it and I was able to do it.”

It was a big moment and a quick reversal of fortune for someone who got beat a few plays earlier. But the rebound wasn’t surprising to those who study the 49ers intently.

His fourth postseason interception -- and the second of this playoff run -- filled his teammates with pride. They thought the moment fitting, considering their defensive leader closed out another important game.

“It was awesome,” rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw said. “He looked like a receiver on that play. I’m glad he made up for it, man. The deep ball got him earlier, but he’s a captain on our team and we know you can’t get Richard too many times.

“We knew they needed to go downfield given the score, and he was right there, made the play and got us the victory. I’m excited to play with a guy of that caliber. He’s a legend. I’ve been watching Richard since I was a young kid. To play with him and learn from him is a blessing. It’s a dream come true.”

The play itself was pretty athletic, considering how far he had to run to get the ball. But nobody was surprised he was able to get there and officially close things out.

“It was amazing,” slot cornerback K’Waun Williams said. “To be out there and have Richard finish this game off was great.”

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Young defenders listen to Sherman closely, and his words can have as much of an impact as his on-field play. The 49ers stayed focused in the second half despite a commanding 27-point lead thanks to practicing what Sherman preaches.

"Sherm has done a great job of keeping our emotions from getting too high,” rookie edge rusher Nick Bosa said. “It really is a long game and a lot of different things can happen. You can’t get overhyped about one play or one series or even a first half. His biggest message was to keep the foot on the pedal the entire game.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday)

PFF stats show how dominant Nick Bosa was in 49ers' win vs. Vikings

PFF stats show how dominant Nick Bosa was in 49ers' win vs. Vikings

SANTA CLARA -- Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh always stresses the importance of the 49ers stopping the run on the early downs, then getting after the quarterback on third downs.

That’s exactly what the 49ers did on Saturday.

And nobody did that better than rookie defensive end Nick Bosa.

Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, had an all-around dominant day in the 49ers’ 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs on Saturday at Levi’s Stadium.

Bosa had three run stops on just seven snaps against the run, according to Pro Football Focus. As a pass-rusher, he had two sacks, one quarterback hit and four hurries. He even broke up a pass when he dropped into coverage.

Afterward, Bosa gave credit to the entire defense, which benefited from the returns of edge rusher Dee Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt.

“I knew getting Dee back and getting Kwon, Tartt, just having them on the field, it's a completely different energy,” Bosa said. “It's the energy we had early in the year. It's really fun playing on a really good team, just knowing that every person around you is going to do their job really well. Makes it a lot easier for me.”

Ford returned to action after seeing just four snaps of action in the final six weeks of the regular season. Ford had three total pressures -- one sack, one hit, one hurry -- in 17 pass-rush snaps, according to PFF.

The 49ers applied pressure to Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on 17 of his 35 dropbacks (48.6 percent), according to PFF.

Alexander’s return gave the 49ers more of an intangible lift than anything. Rookie Dre Greenlaw maintained his starting role and played well. Greenlaw forced a fumble and allowed just 26 receiving yards in coverage on his six targets, according to PFF.

Meanwhile, Alexander had one assisted tackle but missed two tackles.

Middle linebacker Fred Warner was targeted in pass coverage three times and allowed just 7 receiving yards.

Here are some other highlights from PFF’s evaluation of the game:

--Nickelback K'Waun Williams allowed one catch on two targets for 7 yards while covering the slot receiver.

--Cornerback Richard Sherman allowed just one catch on three targets for 9 yards with an interception.

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--Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne graded out as the 49ers’ top offensive player. He had three catches for 40 yards and a touchdown. Each of his three receptions went for a first down or TD.

--Center Ben Garland allowed no quarterback pressures and graded out well in the run game.

--Right tackle Mike McGlinchey posted the best run-blocking grade of his career.

--Left tackle Joe Staley did not allow a quarterback pressure on any of his 21 pass-blocking snaps.

--Running back Tevin Coleman had 22 rushing attempts for 105 yards and two touchdowns. He had a season-best 61 yards after contact. He tied a season-best with four forced missed tackles. Eight of his 22 carries resulted in a first down or TD.

Five 49ers to watch in Week 16 vs. Rams: Nick Bosa faces wily vet

Five 49ers to watch in Week 16 vs. Rams: Nick Bosa faces wily vet

SANTA CLARA –- Coach Kyle Shanahan admits to being mad after the 49ers’ 29-22 loss to the Atlanta Falcons last week.

It took him a full day to come to grips with the 49ers' loss and put it into perspective.

And here is the pertinent fact he passed along to his team: That game did not ruin the 49ers’ season.

“When you do lose a game you should win at the end of the year, it can cost you a lot,” Shanahan said on "49eres Game Plan," which airs Saturday at 1 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

“Fortunately, we put in a lot of work this year and we’ve had a hell of a season so far. And we earned, through our record and the situation we’re in, that one slip-up did not cost us as much as it should’ve cost us if we didn’t put the work in.”

With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the 49ers still can assure themselves the NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with victories over the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks to close out the regular season.

First up, the 49ers must take care of business against the Rams (8-6) on Saturday night at Levi’s Stadium.

Here are five important 49ers to watch in the key Week 16 game:

5. OL Daniel Brunskill

The Rams feature the league’s best defensive lineman.

Aaron Donald will line up just about everywhere on the defensive line. And on third downs, he will target the opposing offensive lineman he knows he can best exploit.

It appears as if the 49ers do not expect right guard Mike Person to be available to play Saturday night while he is limited by a neck condition. He went through limited practice this week.

First-year player Daniel Brunskill is expected to step into the lineup to take over for Person.

Brunskill has proven to be a valuable backup for the 49ers. He started five games at right tackle and one game at left tackle earlier this season while Mike McGlinchey and Joe Staley were out with injuries.

Brunskill has a chance to work his way into the 49ers’ starting lineup next season, and his best chance of getting there could be at guard. His work Saturday night against Donald could be a springboard to bigger things in the future.

4. QB Jimmy Garoppolo

The Rams’ defense will not make it easy on Jimmy Garoppolo, as defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will try to confuse the 49ers quarterback with a variety of zone coverages. The 49ers do not expect Los Angeles to play a lot of man defense.

Garoppolo has to be decisive as he checks it down to the open receivers for short gains. He must make the right reads while also being sure he gets rid of the ball before Donald and the Rams' pass rush gets to him.

Garoppolo, named as an NFC Pro Bowl alternate this week, is having the best season for a 49ers quarterback in a long time. He completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 3,445 yards with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions through 14 games. His passer rating is 102.8.

The last 49ers quarterback to finish a full season with a higher passer rating was Hall of Famer Steve Young, who registered a 104.7 mark in 1997.

Garoppolo has played at a consistently high level in the second half of the season, and he has to keep it going in order for the 49ers to earn home-field advantage. Shanahan said on "49ers Game Plan" that he is confident Garoppolo can help the 49ers win any game that they put in his hands. This might be one of those games.

3. CB K’Waun Williams

The 49ers’ defense played without three of its top five players in the secondary against the Falcons last week. Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt remains out of action with fractured ribs, but Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams are back.

Sherman is a five-time Pro Bowler, so his value is known. But Williams is an integral part of the team’s defense due to his ability to cover the slot receiver in zone and man coverages, while also being a sure tackler.

Williams will face a stiff challenge Saturday, as he goes against Rams receiver Cooper Kupp. Kupp leads the Rams this season with 83 receptions for 1,031 yards and eight touchdowns. Kupp and New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman are tied atop the NFL with most receptions (61) out of the slot position, according to Pro Football Focus.

Williams, who missed last week’s game due to a concussion, will not be eased back into the action. Rams quarterback Jared Goff and Kupp will test him repeatedly on third downs as Los Angeles looks to extend drives with passes to its go-to receiver.

2. WR Deebo Samuel

The 49ers figure to face a lot of zone coverage, which will make hitting plays down the field very difficult. Samuel is at his best when he is catching passes underneath, then turning into a running back.

Samuel has turned into a valuable part of the team’s passing game. He is the 49ers' top wideout this season, catching 48 passes for 669 yards and three touchdowns. Samuel still makes a lot of rookie mistakes, but he has earned Shanahan’s trust as an every-down player. As has veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

Last week, Garoppolo targeted tight end George Kittle on half of his 34 passing attempts. The Rams certainly will do their best to take Kittle out of the game, which should give Samuel some space to operate and turn short passes into longer gains. Samuel and A.J. Brown of the Tennessee Titans are the only rookies in the league who average more than 8 yards run-after-the-catch this season.

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1. DE Nick Bosa

Until Dee Ford returns from a hamstring and quadriceps injuries, the 49ers probably are not capable of being the same dominant defense that showed up repeatedly earlier in the season. The 49ers only have three sacks in the past three games.

Bosa, chosen to the Pro Bowl this week, has attracted a lot of attention as a rookie, and for good reason. He ranks second in the league among rookies and second on the 49ers, behind Arik Armstead, with nine sacks. The 49ers need an edge rusher to help close out games, and Bosa is the most likely candidate.

On Saturday, it will be a classic matchup of youth vs. experience. Bosa will go up against 14-year veteran Andrew Whitworth, a player against whom he matched up in October. Bosa said he received a learning lesson in October when he went up against Whitworth.

“He’s so good at holding and doing all these small things, just grabbing onto you,” Bosa said. “I might think I’m having a great bull rush. But in reality, he’s got my two pads and he’s pulling me to the ground with him. He just uses what you do well against you, and he’s been doing it for a long time.”