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The Game Manager, Week 16: ‘Twas the game before Christmas

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‘Twas also the second game after Hanukkah for all my Jewish brothers and sisters.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at San Francisco 49ers
The Ghost of Christmas Past
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Bay,
Not a fan thought the Niners could defeat Chicago that day;
Some hoped they wouldn’t, so there’d be higher draft picks for choosing,
Others said, “Screw that, winning’s better than losing”;

The jerseys were hung in the lockers with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas would throw strikes through the air;
The fans were nestled all snug on their couch,
With visions of Trubisky playing like a slouch;
And Lynch with his mai-tais, and Kyle in his cap,
Had just settled in to await the first snap;

When, what to their wondering eyes should appear,
But a smallish QB, with stats worthy of fear;
With an arm not that strong, but especially quick,
They knew in a moment it must be St Nick.

He had a huge spirit and he wore number four,
When some fans said “tank,” he said “Nah, I wanna win more!”
Nick didn’t have stature, but had the heart of a lion,
Even down big in Seattle, he never stopped tryin’.
The weight of an undermanned team on his shoulders,
The guts he showed proved he had gonads like boulders;

His eyes, how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
Speaking to Erin Andrews, his cheeks blushed like giant cherries!
He wasn’t Jimmy G, but threw darts just the same,
Nick hit his receivers, as he called them by name!

”Now Bourne! Now, Goodwin! Now, Wilson and Kittle!
On, Breida! On, Pettis! Even Trent Taylor a little!
To the flat! To the sideline! Down the seam with the ball!
Now dash away! Dash away! Score a touchdown y’all!”

Then out on the field there arose such a smack,
It could only have come from the great Khalil Mack;
Through the offensive line, he flew like a flash,
And Niner fans sighed, “At least our draft position won’t crash”;

But the 49ers defense was stout, which made many think twice,
When they led 9-7 at half, fans said “Well, isn’t this nice”;
The Niners even got a turnover, which is incredibly rare,
Though that was a fluky pass thrown backward in air;

Yet the Bears kept on coming, hunting for sacks,
And several times, poor Nicholas ended up on his back;
They came and they came, and battered poor Nick,
Even though he was tough, and his release time quite quick;
Though he didn’t play great, his spirit was bold,
But all the Niner scoring came from Robbie Gould;

Then late in the game, the Bears finally pulled ahead,
And the Niners chances at upset seemed be dead;
Trubisky was 25 of 29, which just isn’t right,
It made the Niners so mad, they just had to fight;

With one last first down, a Bear win was more than a hunch,
Until Tarvarius Moore’s homage to the great ”Peanut Punch”;

Two 49er takeaways in one single game?
Next to that, a comeback victory seemed almost tame;
A Christmas miracle was at hand, just as the fans started going,
St. Nick leapt to the field, reared back and kept throwing;
Kyle drew up plays in his head, and team gained some ground,
But they stalled out at midfield, and faced a crucial fourth down;

As the big play unfolded, St. Nick had acres to run,
But for some reason he thought a deep ball seemed like fun;
He heaved it downfield, but it was way out of bounds,
And his pass and upset hopes both crashed to the ground;

As St. Nick hung his head, and walked toward the setting Sun,
He called back to reporters, “Dammit, I wished I’d just run”;

Though close losses and injury plagued the Niners all season,
The fanbase had hope, and there was good reason;
For despite the adversity, the Niners never gave up,
We should keep that in mind as we all raise our cups;
And as Kyle game-planned for L.A., vowing to keep up the fight,
He wished a “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

The 12 plays of Christmas

In honor of the holiday, and the encroaching end to the 49ers season -- disappointing as it was -- I wanted to pick 12 bright spots. Twelve times it all went right. It didn’t happen often enough for our liking, but if you ask me, that’s all the more reason to celebrate them. Join me, won’t you?

1. Jimmy Garoppolo’s TD pass to Dante Pettis in Week 1

My favorite play of the year. There’s so much to like about it. From Jimmy G’s athleticism to escape pressure and roll out to his left -- away from his arm side -- then spin to deliver a deep strike, to Pettis’ ability to improvise off his route, find a soft spot in the defense, make a spectacular finger tip grab in the corner of the end zone, an get both feet in bounds. And don’t sleep on Pettis’s instincts to roll toward his side to protect the ball from the ground, and his hand strength to hold the ball still without a TD-killing bobble as he fell to the ground. The only bad part: The season’s signature highlight came in Week 1, and promised things that would never come to pass -- Jimmy’s playmaking and his connection with Pettis.

2. George Kittle’s 82-yard catch and run TD vs. the Chargers in Week 4

Kittle displayed ridiculous play-making ability all year, but this was the start of it. The O.G. catch and run which presaged all that would follow. We saw glimpses of Kittle’s open-field abilities last year, but I didn’t fully get that would be a staple of his game until 2018. And this is one which first opened my eyes to the fact that while he may look like a young Brent Jones, his ability is much more reminiscent of a young Vernon Davis. And that’s a good thing.

3. Kittle’s 71-yard one-handed catch and run vs. the Raiders in Week 9

You know what they say, “Mo’ Kittle, mo’ highlights.” Some might have this Kittle highlight above the last one due to the whole one-handed-grab thing (especially since it was also a no-eyes-grab), and I can’t really argue with that. But there are two reasons I have this as Kittle’s second-best: 1) It was shorter than the previous, and 2) It wasn’t a TD. Still, a great play, and clearly one of the year’s best.

Oh, and remember how I said above Kittle had wheels. Well, that wasn’t just me making up stuff like usual. This time, I have the stats to back it up. Next Gen stats, even:

4. Matt Breida’s 67-yard TD run vs. the Lions in Week 2

When Jerick McKinnon went down before the season, there was a feeling that might kill not only the 49ers ability to run the ball, but also their big play ability. In Week 2, Breida showed us those would not be concerns. Injury will keep Breida from a 1,000-yard season, and may very well keep him from ever being a true No. 1 back, but his 5.3 ypc average and speed in the open field promise to give the 49ers backfield a strong 1-2 punch once fellow Georgia Southern product McKinnon returns next year. This play was the first real evidence of that potential, And Breida is only my second favorite part of the play -- Pierre Garçon’s downfield blocking reminded me of the good ol’ days of Jerry Rice and John Taylor clearing the way for long plays in the 80’s and 90’s. And anything that reminds me of that is worth celebrating.

5. Antone Exum’s pick-6 vs. the Chargers in Week 4

The 49ers have only two interceptions all season so we have to celebrate one, especially since it also was a TD -- their only defensive score all year. The fact it came against one of the best quarterbacks on one of the best teams in the league makes it even more unlikely. The fact it came from a backup thrust in the starting lineup due to injuries makes it emblematic of the 49ers season. Well, except for the forcing-a-takeaway part.

6. DeForest Buckner’s late sack vs. the Seahawks in Week 15 (and Robert Saleh’s reaction)

The sack was remarkable -- let’s face it, any 49ers sack is -- but so was Saleh’s reaction. To run down the elusive Wilson for a crucial stop late in the game, Buckner showed great athleticism -- then so did Saleh. That it was Buckner’s second sack of his dominant game -- not mention his 11th of the year, giving him the most since Aldon Smith’s incredible 19.5 in 2012 — was icing on the cake.

7. Joe Staley’s catch vs. the Broncos in Week 14

Call it stupid if you want, but I’m a sucker for an offensive lineman carrying the ball. That goes double when they actually catch a pass. And when the guy to catch it is Joe Staley, it’s triply good. Obviously he’s the longest tenured 49er and a fan favorite (not to mention Gore favorite!), but a catch by Staley also harkens back to the glorious Jim Harbaugh era, when Staley twice made receptions -- on purpose! Not only were those catches different because they were plays drawn up specifically to get him the ball, they each gained at least 14 yards!

8. Richie James Jr.’s 97-yard kickoff return TD vs. the Seahawks in Week 15

Speaking of the Harbaugh era, I mentioned last week that before James’ return TD vs. Seattle, the last kickoff return for a score was on September 11, 2011, Harbaugh first game in khakis at Candlestick. I miss Harbaugh, I miss his khakis, I miss Candlestick, and I miss kickoff return TD’s. The first three aren’t ever coming back, but at least James revived the latter. Extra points for making Sebastian Janikowski look stupid. Or maybe he did it on his own.

9. Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Juszczyk and Matt Breida teaming up for a triple-option run vs. the Chiefs in Week 3

Kyle Shanahan has wowed us with his play design all year, consistently scheming guys open and gashing teams on the ground despite often playing with a 3rd-string QB, 4th-string RB, and only a few healthy WR’s. But this might have been my favorite from a purely X’s-and-O’s standpoint. Digging into the past for a staple of offenses gone by, Shanahan had Garoppolo handoff to Juszczyk, who then pitched to Breida for what by all rights should’ve been a TD. As I mentioned at the time, Breida had a clear lane to the end zone and a blocker to help out, but unexpectedly veered out of bounds (as he has a tendency to do, probably in an effort to preserve his health). Not only did it cost the Niners a TD to draw within one score late, Jimmy G got injured on the next play. If it wasn’t for that horrifying “what if?” this would be higher on the list.

10. Tarvarius Moore’s forced fumble vs. the Bears in Week 16

Recency bias? Perhaps. But it was also the closest the 49ers have come all year from snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Had Mullens and company scored a game-winning TD, it might’ve been the closest any team came all year to turning a sure loss into a win. Once Allen Robinson caught Mitchell Trubisky’s 3rd down pass to convert a 1st down with less than two minutes left and the 49ers out of timeouts, the game was over for all intents and purposes. All he had to do was take a knee to make it all but official. He didn’t and Moore made him pay.

11. C.J. Beathard’s 67-yard TD pass to Marquise Goodwin vs. the Packers in Week 6

Deep balls have been rare this year -- it’s not the specialty of any of the 49ers QB’s. But it’s no surprise it went to Goodwin, the Niners best deep threat. That it started a stirring comeback on Monday Night Football at Lambeau Field made it all the more remarkable.

12. Raheem Mostert’s 52-yard TD run vs. the Raiders

Yes, this play was used as exhibit A that the Raiders had quit on Jon Gruden. So why is it one of the 49ers best? Because it was the final Battle of the Bay. Because it capped off the 49ers lone blowout win of the year. Because it was on national TV. Because it was Mostert’s first career TD -- after he’d been playing well, and shortly before his gruesome season-ending injury.

(Hopeful) Stat of the week

Kittle, 2018: 1228 yards
Travis Kelce, 2018: 1274 yards
Rob Gronkowski, 2013: 1327 yards

Kittle entered Sunday 66 yards behind Kelce for the league lead in receiving yards by a tight end. He gained ground, ending the week just 46 yards behind, and will enter Week 17 with not only a realistic chance to catch Kelce, but needing an even 100 yards to break Gronkowski’s all-time NFL record. Kittle’s had three games of 100+ yards, and this would be a great time for number four. He already barely missed the record for TE receiving yards in a game because Shanahan neglected to get him the ball in the 2nd half, so after expressing regret for that oversight, I’d imagine Shanahan will put an emphasis on giving Kittle a real shot at history against the Rams.

Poll

If you could only get the 49ers one gift for Christmas, what would it be?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    A healthy Jimmy G
    (60 votes)
  • 33%
    The No. 1 pick in the draft
    (46 votes)
  • 16%
    Their choice of free agent
    (23 votes)
  • 4%
    A new defensive coordinator
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    Sean McVay’s early retirement
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Other (answer in comments)
    (0 votes)
136 votes total Vote Now