Are the San Francisco 49ers back? Only time will tell. However, after reaching the lowest point of their season just a couple of weeks ago, they backed up their impressive Monday Night Football victory over the Rams with another dominant performance over the Jacksonville Jaguars this week. The win pulled them back to .500 and has them firmly entrenched in the postseason picture.
Here’s how each position group contributed to the big win:
Jimmy Garoppolo has been playing some of his best football recently. The 49ers are not asking a lot of Jimmy G, but that has not prevented him from making costly mistakes in the past. However, for the first time in his Niners tenure, he’s avoiding turnovers.
Garoppolo made a great throw to Brandon Aiyuk on third-and-12 during the 49ers’ first drive of the game, but he also cost them a touchdown when he missed a wide-open Jeff Wilson in the endzone. Wilson had no defender within five yards of him, and Garoppolo had plenty of time in the pocket but delivered an inaccurate ball with way too much zip.
Still, Garoppolo’s worst play should not overshadow a good all-around performance. He completed 16 of his 22 attempts for 176 passing yards, two touchdowns, and zero turnovers. As has been the recipe the past two weeks, Garoppolo never pushed the ball downfield and rarely even to the sideline, but he was consistent over the middle.
Had Garoppolo played like this from the jump this season, calls for Trey Lance would be much quieter. That’s water under the bridge now, though. More importantly, the 49ers will win games if he keeps up this level of play.
Running backs: B
This grade would jump to an A if I counted Deebo Samuel as a running back, but I stuck by his usual position for these classifications. While the 49ers ran all over the Jaguars, especially early, running backs Jeff Wilson and Trey Sermon averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry (82 rushing yards on 29 carries).
Wilson, and particularly Sermon, missed some opportunities for bigger gains on the ground. Still, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s brilliant playcalling and the 49ers’ outstanding offensive line meant those mistakes were never very costly. Sermon also hauled in a 23-yard reception late that further ensured the Niners’ victory. But, most importantly, they never fumbled.
Tight ends: A-
George Kittle caught all four of his targets for 34 receiving yards and a touchdown, but as has often been the case recently, his impact was more considerable than his numbers suggest. Kittle’s fantastic run blocking never goes unnoticed, and he delivered impactful blocks all game long.
Sidenote: Kittle had never recorded touchdown reception in back-to-back weeks before last Monday. He has now caught a touchdown in three straight games.
Wide receivers: A
Alright, so where do we start? Typically Brandon Aiyuk catching all 7 of his targets for 85 receiving yards and a touchdown would be the headline receiver. Yet, Samuel kept making his case for Offensive Player of the Year on Sunday. He caught just one pass for 15 receiving yards but received eight carries on the ground for 79 rushing yards and a touchdown.
No other receiver racked up catches, but that did not stop Jauan Jennings from being involved in one of the most impactful plays of the game. With an early 10-0 lead, the 49ers were stopped on third down and seemed ready to settle for a 45-yard field goal. But, instead, Jennings’ physical blocking got under safety Rayshawn Jenkins’ skin and led to a 15-yard penalty that gave the 49ers a first down, got Jenkins ejected, and led to a Niners touchdown.
Offensive line: A
The 49ers have played bully ball the past two weeks. That would not be possible without a fantastic well-rounded effort from the team’s line. While Garoppolo dealt with some pressure late in the game, the Niners line dominated early despite staying on the field for most of the first half.
Defensive line: A
A well-rested 49ers defensive line is a headache for any opponent, especially one with as weak an offensive line as the Jaguars. Jacksonville had no success running the ball with James Robinson and was forced into difficult passing situations all game.
Nick Bosa was once again the star of the day, drawing a holding flag, generating consistent pressure, and recording two sacks (although his second one probably should have been flagged for a late hit). Yet, Bosa was not the only lineman generating big plays. Samson Ebukam, Arden Key, and Kevin Givens all made a tackle for loss.
Key might have been the most intriguing. He recorded a sack for the third consecutive game, and defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has seemed to find success with the longtime edge rusher on the inside. Sunday’s win over the Jaguars was probably the best game of Key’s four-year career, and it could change the game for San Francisco’s defense if he could be a consistent contributor alongside Bosa and Armstead.
Fred Warner and Azeez Al-Shaair were fantastic in the middle of the field, both in coverage and against the run. Warner had a team-high seven tackles and was as impressive in coverage as ever. Al-Shaair surrendered just one reception in coverage and continued impacting plays with his high-energy play.
The 49ers’ frontline made life easier for their defensive backs, but we have seen terrible cornerback play undermine that before. That did not happen on Sunday. Instead, veteran Josh Norman was the star of the unit on Sunday, allowing just one catch and forcing the game’s only turnover on the Jaguars’ second drive.
In a little added glimpse into the future, rookies Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir both got their most extended playing time of the season as well. We’ll see if the Niners’ younger defensive backs can secure a larger role as the season progresses.
Jaquiski Tartt allowed a downfield completion and committed a late-game pass interference penalty, but otherwise, the 49ers’ safeties (Tartt, Jimmie Ward, and Talanoa Hufanga) played a solid mistake-free game.
Special teams: B
There was little notable from the special teams, which is usually how you want it. Robbie Gould never missed a kick. Mitch Wishnowsky’s punts were fine. Neither Aiyuk nor Trenton Cannon had a noteworthy return.