That was fun. We knew the 49ers and Vikings would play an entertaining game, and they did not fail to live up to those expectations. There were 32 points scored in the third quarter. There was big play after big play, but the scoring stopped in the fourth.
That was enough for the 49ers to hold off Minnesota 34-26. The stars were the stars for the Niners, and you’ll notice that in today’s Winners and Losers.
Winners - Deebo Samuel
Deebo Samuel said he wasn’t too concerned about his groin injury after Sunday’s game. However, he added that he was in a bit of a dark place as he walked toward the sideline after feeling his groin tighten up. Samuel has been the 49ers MVP and can ill-afford to miss him.
Samuel caught one of his four targets for 12 yards and finished with six carries for 66 yards and two touchdowns. His numbers look pedestrian, but when the 49ers' offense needed a spark, Samuel delivered.
Samuel’s second carry of the game went for 20 yards around the edge for a touchdown. His fourth carry didn’t come until the initial drive of the third quarter. Samuel took the run around the right edge for a gain of 49 yards.
Deebo played like a player that runs a 4.3, and defenders struggled to bring Samuel down as if he weighed 250 pounds. But, even in six carries, you feel Deebo’s impact. That’s the mark of a special player when you can affect the game in the manner that he does without dominating the ball.
You’d have no idea that Mitchell missed a week after having surgery on his broken finger. It’s telling when Mitchell’s teammates go out of their way to support him. Here was Samuel after the game on Mitchell: “He can play like he’s 240 pounds, and he runs like he’s 190 pounds. He’s got the speed. He’s got the physicality. He’s got the mindset. He’s just a great overall back.”
George Kittle showed up to the postgame presser with a shirt of Mitchell:
Mitchell’s 32 touches from scrimmage were most by a 49ers player since Frank Gore had 32 vs Lions on 12/27/09.
Mitchell finished with 133 yards on 27 carries as well as five receptions for 35 yards. Mitchell’s longest carry went for 15 yards. So it’s not as if he’s gashing defenses. If you think he’s good now, wait until he starts to hit the explosive runs once a game.
This is my favorite player to watch on the roster. Yes, he missed a couple of tackles. When you are as active as Al-Shaair, that’s inevitable in the NFL.
Al-Shaair finished with a team-high eight tackles, had the game-changing interception in the third quarter, broke up a pass, and recovered Givens’ fumble. Oh, and Al-Shaair had the “green dot” and finished the game at middle linebacker after Fred Warner left with an injury.
Al-Shaair’s physicality is necessary. On one screen, he took on multiple offensive linemen. He’s fearless and relentless. That’s the perfect combination for a linebacker.
Losers - Josh Norman
Norman forced a fumble that the Vikings were fortunate to recover. Aside from that, Norman missed a tackle where he was 1-on-1 that led to a touchdown. He chased a post route and allowed a wheel route wide open along the sideline on Minnesota’s first drive. Norman had a pass interference where he whiffed on Justin Jefferson at the line of scrimmage.
We use the term “Norman giveth, and Norman taketh.” Against Minnesota, Norman did a lot of giving. I understand he’s a veteran and occasionally forces turnovers, but opposing offenses are going to target Norman early and often moving forward.
Garoppolo finished 17-for-26 for 230 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. While Jimmy had a few impressive throws that moved the chains, his errant throws and interception put the 49ers behind and took points off the board. Garoppolo’s accuracy was all over the place during the first half.
There were a couple of times where he was under pressure, and Jimmy would drop his eyes and miss open receivers. He was too skittish in the pocket when he didn’t have to be. The sacks we saw were a reflection of a quarterback with poor pocket presence.
After the game, Kyle Shanahan said, “Jimmy played good enough for us to win.” Shanahan also called Garoppolo’s interception “inexcusable” and talked about his multiple misses early on.
Sunday was a rollercoaster performance from Garoppolo when the 49ers needed consistency.
I mentioned Norman’s coverage bust. Talanoa Hufanga had one on a touchdown during the first half, too. You can’t give good teams extra that type of leeway. The 49ers had timely stops like Kevin Givens forced fumble, Azeez’s interception, and Nick Bosa’s sack. Aside from those three plays, they did not play well until the final two downs.
Cousins had 33 attempts, and the 49ers only hit him twice outside of Bosa’s sack. The Vikings had their fair share of explosive plays through the air. Had it not been for the offense controlling the clock, I’m not sure that this outcome isn’t any different. Thankfully, Cousins didn’t know that you’re supposed to take the snap from the guard:
4th and goal. Kirk Cousins lines up under his guard. pic.twitter.com/pSLh2YFdAb— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dieter) November 29, 2021
Winners - Brandon Aiyuk
Brandon Aiyuk caught three passes for 91 yards. Our bold prediction of him surpassing 100 yards and having a career-high felt short. Still, Aiyuk had the highest added EPA for any player that touched the ball Sunday, quarterbacks included. For reference, Aiyuk’s 6.1 total EPA was higher than Garoppolo’s at 5.9.
Aiyuk had receptions for 37, 24, and 30 yards. That’s what he’s capable of. The 49ers, especially if Deebo is out, will need somebody on the perimeter to stretch the field. That somebody is Aiyuk.
Weapons on offense
Garoppolo gave his players a chance, and they made difficult catches in traffic. Kyle Juszczyk caught a seam pass for 26-yards after he was hit for a key first down. Charlie Woerner caught an 11-yard pass. Off the bench, on a critical down, Trent Sherfield fought off contact and hauled in a five-yard pass.
We have to talk about Jauan Jennings. He used a much-needed hesitation move on his short touchdown catch. Jennings also caught another pass for 21 yards. I wouldn’t mind seeing more slot fades in the red zone to Jennings, either.
If Jimmy takes care of the ball and the wideouts catch it, we’ll see the offense continue to score 30 points as they did Sunday for the third game in a row. The offense is littered with playmakers. They scored on six of their 12 drives but also missed a field goal and took a knee. However, their efficiency is unreal, and the offense is humming at the perfect time.