The San Francisco 49ers played like champions against the Falcons on Sunday.
In their 31-13 win, the Niners’ play on the field finally matched their aspirations of the postseason, and maybe even the Super Bowl.
Every part of the team stepped up. The defensive line. The wide receivers. The running game. Even quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo looked as poised as a veteran in the pocket.
Sure, they made mistakes — like a fumble on the first play of the game — but the 49ers overcame them, keeping the momentum on their side. Just like championship teams do.
It’s clear that in the waning weeks of the season, this football team is finding their stride and gaining confidence. Never mind their early year struggles, or the fact they were 2-4 at one point. Right now, the 49ers are looking like a playoff contender — and a strong one at that.
Let’s examine the Niners’ dominating performance against the Falcons under the microscope.
The 49ers went into this game without their starting running back Elijah Mitchell, but you know what? It didn’t matter. Kyle Shanahan’s trademark rushing attack was on full display with the help of Jeff Wilson Jr., who had a whopping 21 carries, 110 yards, and a touchdown. Combine that with Deebo Samuel’s 6 carries, 29 yards, and touchdown on the ground (his 7th of the season), and you had an unstoppable running game on offense.
The Niners looked so dominant in the ground game, everyone was getting involved. Even fullback Kyle Juszczyk ran it in for a 6 yard touchdown — his first rushing score of the year:
In the passing game, Jimmy Garoppolo had another clean showing with no interceptions, and he completed 18 of 23 pass attempts for 235 yards and a touchdown. That’s a passer rating of 133.8, a reflection of his fantastic performance.
This 2021 49ers team is thriving under Jimmy G’s recent great play. They succeed when he does, so as long as Garoppolo can keep it up, this team should keep rolling past opponents.
George Kittle had another big day receiving with 6 catches for 93 yards. Outside of that, the ball was spread around quite a bit, with Deebo Samuel, Jauan Jennings, Brandon Aiyuk, and others all getting catches.
As great as the offense was, the 49ers defense had the spotlight on Sunday. To start the game, a 49ers fumble on special teams brought the Falcons to the goal line, and an early deficit seemed inevitable. But the defense held, forcing a turnover on downs and setting a commanding tone.
Edge rusher Nick Bosa was unstoppable, notching his 15th sack of the season and generally making life miserable for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. The defensive line as a whole was dominant, in fact, with a forced fumble, 3 total sacks, and a would-be 4th called back due to a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty. Ryan was hit 10 times, and never once seemed to get settled in the pocket.
The D-line’s performance against Atlanta was reminiscent of the 2019 unit that took them to the Super Bowl. If Bosa and company can keep generating pressure and making opposing QBs uncomfortable, the 49ers can go far in the playoffs.
The rest of the 49ers defense was playing at an elite level, too. Linebacker Fred Warner had 9 tackles and a fumble recovery. Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt had an excellent pass breakup that prevented a touchdown.
The only real weak spot was rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas, who gave up numerous big catches. He also dropped two would-be interceptions. Crucial mistakes from a new player, but when the rest of the team is playing so well, they’re a non-factor.
If the 49ers had a weak link Sunday, it was their special teams. On the very first play of the game, Jamycal Hasty fumbled the kickoff return, giving the Falcons the ball deep in 49ers territory. Not a great start.
In the fourth quarter, the special teams unit took another fatal misstep when they let the Falcons return a punt past midfield. And while the 49ers defense prevented any points, it’s a troubling trend. This group is making mistakes every game, and sooner or later the rest of the team won’t be able to shoulder the burden.
If the special teams unit can start playing more disciplined, the 49ers are one of the most dangerous teams in the league. If not, it’ll cost them against better opponents — especially in the playoffs.
There’s no denying it — the 49ers looked dominant on Sunday. For a team that’s struggled this season, it’s so good to see them playing to their full potential.
The biggest question for the next few weeks is whether or not the 49ers can play at this level consistently. Small bursts of greatness is one thing, but it takes performing week in, week out to be a true contender.
Over the last three games of the regular season, we’ll see if the 2021 Niners have what it takes — or if their success is a flash in the pan.
The final stretch begins with a prime-time, Thursday night showdown vs. the Tennessee Titans on December 23rd.
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