What a difference it makes having some of your actual starting lineup on the field.
The San Francisco 49ers played their last couple games with a skeleton crew, while most of their stars sat out with injuries. But a few big names returned for Week 12 against the Los Angeles Rams, and they wasted no time making their presence known.
Neither team did much with their first two possessions, so the Niners began their third drive of the game with seven minutes still on the clock in the first quarter. Deebo Samuel, who last played in Week 7 due to his hamstring, received a pitch on second-and-5 and took it 33 yards. Two plays later, he caught another pass for a 26-yard gain, putting San Francisco on first-and-goal at the 8. In two plays, Samuel showed his customary explosiveness by racking up 59 yards.
With the end zone in sight, it was Raheem Mostert’s turn to step up. Playing for the first time since Week 6 (ankle), he took the ball on first-and-goal and easily ran it around the corner for the touchdown. It’s the first time he’s scored since Week 2.
But the offense hasn’t been the only beneficiary of improved health. When the Rams got the ball back after Mostert’s TD, it took only four plays before L.A. quarterback Jared Goff aired a pass to nobody — well, nobody except 49ers defender Richard Sherman, playing for the first time since Week 1 (calf). Sherman even ran back the interception for 18 yards before being taken down.
The first half wasn’t pretty overall, as both teams combined to turn the ball over five times, and only two possessions ended in scores. But the 7-3 score currently stands in favor of San Francisco, against the current NFC West division leader, in no small part because we’re watching more of the actual Niners roster that we were hoping to see this season.
Update: Samuel came up big again later in the game. He picked up 31 more yards on two catches during the 49ers’ game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, including a crucial third-down conversion. Samuel finished the day with 11 catches for 133 receiving yards — one shy of his career high in that category from last year.