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Winners and losers: It’s nice to have Kittle back

You could draw names out of a hat and they’d probably be a winner.

Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Brandon Magnus/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers looked like they were the team coming off a bye week after beating the Green Bay Packers 37-8. If you named a player, they probably had a standout performance Sunday night. The offense not being able to convert on third down was frustrating, but outside of that you’re starting to nitpick. Here are the winners and losers from Sunday night.


Jimmie Ward

Ward was everywhere on defense. Ward was making tackles near the line of scrimmage, breaking up passes in the middle of the field, breaking up passes down the sideline. Calling Ward versatile would be selling what he did Sunday night short. Against that quarterback and that offense, the 49ers secondary needed to bring their A game. Ward led the charge.

George Kittle

The only time Kittle hasn’t been a winner this season was when he didn’t play. The best player on the team returned to action with a six-catch, 129 yard performance that was capped off by a 61-yard touchdown on a double move. Kittle is the engine that makes this 49ers offense go. Kittle didn’t look like a player that was battling a bone bruise the past couple of weeks. Listen to what he’s been playing through:

Fred Warner

Warner officially gets a playmaker label, if he hasn’t had one already. Warner finished with a team-high 11 tackles, all solo. He had the early sack in the game that set the tone. He makes a stop after stop around the line of scrimmage. The play to sniff out a screen pass was impressive, and a great illustration of how Warner’s awareness is the reason he’s making all of these plays. He’s such a smart player.


Justin Skule

I tweeted that Skule was on the field for 19 plays, and the 49ers could only muster 41 yards. The next 14 plays, the 49ers scored on all three possessions while gaining 142 yards. Kyle Shanahan said after the game that it was the offensive line’s coach that made the call, and Shanahan didn’t know who was at left tackle. I’m not buying it. Skule was pulled after getting beat far too easy and giving up a penalty. Daniel Brunskill subbed in, and all of a sudden, the Niners open it up again on offense. I’m not buying it, Kyle.

As for Skule, he was going up against two of the more productive pass rushers in the league. Skule is a sixth-round rookie that wasn’t supposed to step foot on the field this season. Context matters. He was outplayed on Sunday night, but it was an impossible task for him. Credit the coaching staff for pulling the trigger.

Marquise Goodwin

The 49ers winning in the way they did likely sealed the deal on Goodwin being active for the rest of the season. Jimmy Garoppolo will probably have to throw the ball more than 20 times to win again this season, that was the recipe for success for San Francisco. Running the ball, throwing quick-hitting passes all sprinkled in with big plays. Those big plays are going to come from players Shanahan trusts.


Defensive line

The biggest winner of the night goes to the defensive line. My goodness, what a performance. The Packers have one of the top offensive lines in football, and they looked like a college team. San Francisco sacked Rodgers five times, and they hit him another five times. D.J. Jones and DeForest Buckner clogged the middle, while Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead literally ran through the Packers linemen. If we’re taking into account the opponent, this may have been the most impressive outing by the 49ers’ defensive line all season, and that’s saying something.

Jimmy Garoppolo

Garoppolo’s numbers look great. 14/20 for 253 yards, two touchdowns, and a passer rating of 145.8. He was as efficient as you could ask. The fumbled snap could have been costly, but no harm no foul. Garoppolo was also the beneficiary of Brunskill being inserted into the lineup. Jimmy G looked like himself, knowing that he could trust Brunskill.

The reason he’s a winner is that everyone wanted to see how he’d look against a playoff team. His numbers were good, but his decision making was better. Zero “oh no” throws from Garoppolo against the Packers. Getting Kittle back makes everyone’s life easier.

Coaching staff

We talked about the decision to make a switch at left tackle. Ahkello Witherspoon came in for Emmanuel Moseley—which Shanahan said was planned—and picked up right where he left off, looking like an All-Pro cornerback. They not only have players ready to go, like the two rookie linebackers that are starting, but the coaches always appear to be one step ahead of the opposition.

If not for early pressure, Shanahan lights this Packers defense up even more. Shanahan said during his postgame presser that he knew what coverage he would get on Kittle’s long touchdown. On the other side of the ball, Robert Saleh broke some tendencies tonight. The 49ers aren’t known for being a blitzing team, and they come after Rodgers on the first third down for a sack. It also felt like we saw more man-to-man coverage Sunday than we have all season. The staff deserves a ton of credit for the gameplan against Green Bay.