The San Francisco 49ers have turned their murky season into a potential Super Bowl run. Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan led his team to another win in a playoff-like atmosphere last week. The win over the Cincinnati Bengals could jumpstart more than just playoff hopes as San Francisco finishes the season.
We will keep the format from last week's 10 plays where the Niners turned the other cheek against the Seattle Seahawks. So instead, here are 20 plays Niner fans will love or shove from their seventh win of the season.
Hill and Hendrickson create pressure in a bear front
San Francisco's offensive line struggles to block a bear front as Trey Hendrickson loops inside from a nine-technique. B.J. Hill (92) is in a shade technique and rips through Alex Mack allowing to Hendrickson could creep inside.
Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had several options open, but the protection crumbled. I've emphasized struggles on third down as this offense tends to lose momentum on drives when third downs don't go their way.
Azeez Al-Shaair is an alien
Azeez Al-Shaair shoots out of a cannon on the Bengals’ first offensive play and nearly forces a turnover. Al-Shaair has continued to prove his worth, and the Niners now have to think about extending him before his asking price gets too high.
This tackle for loss and a drop by Bengals receiver Ja’Marrr Chase on third down would help the Niners secure a three-and-out on an opening drive for the fifth straight game.
Aiyuk bleeds upfield on third down
Another third-down blunder here though you could credit Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo for calling a great play. Garoppolo’s incapability to throw outside the numbers was put to the test on San Francisco’s second offensive possession.
Brandon Aiyuk gave Chidobe Awuzier room to undercut the route by not running his route flat. The Bengals defense deserves credit for closing on routes. Garoppolo is known to have a quick trigger when throwing the ball, and he makes a good decision. Aiyuk bleeding upfield could’ve led to a pick-six,
Niners offense gifted with another opportunity with a muffed punt
Mitch Wishnowsky did a decent job handling the punts until the fourth quarter. In the first quarter, Darius Phillips gifted the Niners offense another chance with this muffed punt.
San Francisco would only end up with a field goal after this special team's blunder. Although Shanahan refused to go for it on fourth, receiving a Surrender Index of 0.8, this punt ranks at the 33rd percentile of cowardly punts of the 2021 season.
Failed Kittle deep shot on third down
Von Bell gets a good hook on George Kittle’s left arm, preventing him from making a two-handed catch. Garoppolo delivers a good pass on 3rd and 3 midway through the second quarter.
Deep passes have been missing from this offense for several seasons. The Niners have been fortunate to have the “Yac Bros” as they have created several plays with their dynamic ability. San Francisco’s offense can pressure defenses if they can consistently hit the deep ball.
Samuel has the longest rush of the day with his 27-yard touchdown
Deebo Samuel has branched off from being a top-tier receiver to bring life into the running game. Samuel had the longest rush of the day with right tackle Tom Compton sealing the outside for him.
Kittle and Compton perform a perfect crack fold block. The running game is hurting right now, but Samuel has kept it afloat with him reverting to his old position.
Jimmie Ward interception negated by a penalty
Jimmie Ward is arguably the most versatile safety in the league. He can fit the run, play press-man coverage against tight ends, and is good in zone coverage (shown above). The one thing that has held Ward back from notoriety is turnovers.
The penalty on Ambry Thomas could not have come at a costlier time. Thomas had a rough day Sunday as he got beat deep several times and had had two critical penalties. His Illegal Use of Hands penalty ruined Ward’s hopes of getting an interception.
Kittle’s heroic effort on TD before the half
Kittle has scored six touchdowns in his last six games. The Garoppolo to Kittle connection is in full effect as Kittle has had 12+ targets in his last two games. His touchdown was uplifting because it was the Niners' last touchdown until Aiyuks game-winning score.
Kittle has gotten a pat on the back for his run blocking, but he has been a dynamic receiving threat this whole time. The 49er’s offense looks unstoppable when Kittle gets going.
Aiyuk does not get his feet down
This is Aiyuk’s second deflating play, and it's because I thought this would be his breakout year. That has gone to Samuel, and Aiyuk’s shine will come in due time. Aiyuk potentially could have sealed the game with this touchdown.
Aiyuk beat Eli Apple, and Garoppolo put the ball on Aiyuk’s numbers. Not getting his second foot down is part of the grey area where Aiyuk has more to prove.
By the end of this season we’re going be talking about Brandon Aiyuk the same way we talk about Davante Adams— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) August 9, 2021
This take looks egregiously bad now, but Aiyuk flashed without a real training camp last season. Aiyuk can still top his total touchdowns last year (7) with a strong finish in this four-game stretch.
Ebukam and Key close the pocket for a sack on third down
Arden Key has quietly helped this pass rush come along the last few weeks. He beats left guard Quentin Spain with the help of Nick Bosa. And Samson Ebukam beats Riley Rief with sheer effort.
The pass rush coming alive is something the Niners have needed all season. Ryans’ defense can take the next step if they can continue to keep the pressure rate up.
Thomas getting beat by a go in off coverage
Thomas had a rough game and was fortunate that Chase dropped this beautiful throw by Burrow in the second quarter. I’d imagine that we will see Deommodre Lenoir soon if Thomas cannot hold up in coverage.
Having liabilities at cornerback can be nerve-wracking, and it's still the position I worry about the most when watching this team. Avoiding penalties and limiting explosive plays will be at the top of their to-do list.
Tartt shows relentless pursuit and delivers a big clean hit
Jaquiski Tartt gave a persistent effort and delivered a big play on this hit. Football is a very physical game, and some of the rules have limited physicality. So it was good to see Tartt deliver a big clean hit.
Tartt and Ward have made up a lot of ground in the secondary. The defense is in a better place when these two are playing at a high level.
Burrow with the Patrick Mahomes-esque play
This play is not as dynamic as Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ play against San Francisco in 2018. Although, it did remind me of the play hence Burrow evading pressure and extending the play for a touchdown.
Rookie safety Talanoa Hufanga was in a tough spot in asking to guard an explosive receiver for 10+ seconds. The pass rush has to get home to avoid quarterbacks extending the play, but Burrow deserves credit here.
DeMeco Ryans’ defense gets home on a blitz on third down early in the fourth quarter
K’Waun Willaims could be the most underrated player on the team. He is extremely important for San Francisco's run fits, and he tends to make several plays in coverage. Williams shows his ability to impact the passing game as a Blitzer in this uplifting play.
Garoppolo tries to avoid pressure
Garoppolo has been under fire for weeks and him being a statue in the pocket hasn’t changed. Daniel Brunskill gets bull-rushed and the pocket starts to collapse. I could have put the play where Garoppolo fumbles, forcing a sack on himself. Yet, this one is just as frustrating. Garoppolo has some mobility—I’d like to see him extend the play more and get outside the pocket.
Kittle the safety valve
This safety valve catch in the fourth quarter by Kittle set up the potential game-winning field goal. Kittle’s receiving efforts continuously put San Francisco in a position to win. The Niners should have closed this game without the theatrics. San Francisco incautious ways in their last three games have been hard to watch,
Robbie Gould has been pulled from kickoffs, and now it looks like he is on his last leg. Gould has only missed three field goals this year, but it feels like his time is up. This missed walk-off field goal should remind Niner fans that he has a scheduled dead cap of $5.5 million next year.
Garoppolo’s best pass of the day
Garoppolo’s six straight completions in overtime were exciting to watch. This pass to Jauan Jennings was Garoppolo’s second pass on the drive and my personal favorite of the game. Shanahan does not ask Garoppolo to throw 50-50 balls much, but he delivered here. Jennings's physicality at the catch point has been a great addition to the receiving core. He proves to be a reliable option when targeted.
Kittle’s false start in overtime
I ran out of deflating plays and had to put Kittle’s false start here—Shame on him!
Brandon Aiyuk soars for the touchdown
Aiyuk showed he could do special things last season. This soaring touchdown was easily the best play of the game. Hopefully, Garoppolo will continue to target him in the red zone. I think Aiyuk is quietly one of the best red-zone options on the team.
Aiyuk’s touchdown reminded me of Michael Jordan dunking from the free-throw line, but Aiyuk glided from three yards out. “Soaring, leaping—one-handed.”
It’s safe to say that this team still has inconsistencies, but they can clean those up and finish the season strong. San Francisco has a chance to get a convincing win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday. Atlanta still has an opportunity to make the playoffs, so the Niners should expect a strong effort from the Falcons.