After an early scare that saw JaMycal Hasty fumble the opening kickoff return, the 49ers controlled the game from wire to wire en route to a 31-13 victory over the Falcons. You have to nitpick to find subpar performances.
Let’s look at the winners and losers from the Niners' convincing win over Atlanta.
Winners - Jeff Wilson
San Francisco hadn’t gotten much production out of its non-Elijah Mitchell running backs this season. Frankly, they’ve left a lot to be desired. But that changed Sunday as Wilson eclipsed 100 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and found the end zone for the first time this season. Hasty took his lone carry for 13 yards and a first down.
Give the offensive line credit, as Wilson had several carries where he was untouched for a few yards. Still, he ran hard, broke tackles, and helped keep the 49ers on schedule, so they weren’t stuck in third and long.
After the first drive, Garoppolo played as clean of a game as you could ask from your quarterback. There were a couple of occasions where Jimmy was jittery in the pocket, but you could tell he wasn’t used to having that much time to scan the field.
Garoppolo had five completions that went for 20 or more yards. He also had five incompletions. There was a play when there was an unblocked defender, and Jimmy managed to get rid of the ball before he was hit to help the offense.
The offense went three-and-out on back-to-back drives in the second half, but that doesn’t happen if the receivers catch the ball that hit them in the facemask from Jimmy, who finished with an impressive 58% success rate with 50% of his throws going for first downs. The 49ers will take that type of efficiency from Garoppolo every Sunday. He avoided the negative plays while playing on time.
Tartt has recently taken his unhappiness about being rotated with a rookie safety and lack of respect for his play to social media. The game could have gone differently had Tartt not recovered to break up a pass on fourth and goal to begin the game.
Later, after it seemed as though Matt Ryan might run the ball in for a touchdown on third and goal, Tartt chases him down from the other side of the field for the stop. Tartt forced an errant throw on fourth down on the next play, which ended any attempt at a comeback for Atlanta.
Tartt finished the game with four tackles, but his impact was felt, and when he’s on the field, the 49ers rarely make mistakes on the backend. Roster politics are the only explanation for a rotation at safety. Tartt shouldn’t come off the field.
Losers - JaMycal Hasty
You have to field the ball cleanly as a returner. Special teams' blunders were the only way Atlanta would hang around in this game. Hasty fumbled the opening kickoff, then mishandled the next kick.
It didn’t come back to haunt the Niners Sunday, but that doesn’t take away from there always being an adventure of some sort when the 49ers are on special teams.
The Cornerbacks, again
I thought Ambry Thomas would bounce back in his second start against lesser competition. I was wrong. Being in a position to make a play doesn’t do you or anybody any good if you can’t find, track, or play the ball in the air. Thomas failed to make a play on a 50/50 ball on three separate occasions. Each time, instead of attacking the ball in the air at its highest point, he’d wait for it on the way down.
Josh Norman gave up a 49-yarder and missed a tackle that led to a first down run. But, again, because these plays didn’t hurt the team against the Falcons doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about the potential issues. When talking about the 49ers cornerback situation, there’s nothing “potential” about it being an issue.
Emmanuel Moseley cannot come back soon enough. It isn’t easy to trust the cornerbacks. Honestly, DeMeco Ryans' coaching job is even more impressive, knowing San Francisco is without any competent cornerbacks on the perimeter.
Winner - Fred Warner
Warner played with a level of aggression that I hadn’t seen from him in a while. Warner recovered Nick Bosa’s strip-sack that was a fumble. He finished with a team-high nine tackles, including a quarterback hit and a critical pass breakup on the opening offensive possession for Atlanta.
The offensive line
Garoppolo wasn’t sacked on 24 attempts and was only hit three times. On two of those, it felt like it was due to JImmy holding the ball longer than expected. When your quarterback can finish his Christmas shopping in the pocket, and your running backs are unbothered until they reach three yards, then your offensive line is doing its job.
A Falcons defender didn't touch him on Kyle Juszczyk’s six-yard touchdown run until he approached the goal-line.
The triple threat
The trio of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk continue to do the heavy lifting for the 49ers. Why wouldn’t they? Aiyuk only had one catch, but he raced for 36 yards, which jump-started a scoring drive. Samuel only rushed for 29 yards but found the end zone on the ground. He also caught four of his five targets for 60 yards, including a 30-yarder. Kittle caught six passes for 93 yards.
The Falcons defense made life easy on the offense, but there aren’t many units in the NFL that can contain the hottest triple threat in the league. San Francisco has made a habit out of creating explosive plays on offense as of late, and Sunday was no different.
The 49ers only faced 11 third downs offensively and converted six of them. So when the game was close, they avoided third down on offense early in the game. You know you’re doing what you’re supposed to on offense when you only face five third downs in the first half.
It’s not sustainable and never something you want to rely on, but the defense forcing three turnovers on downs inside of their 10-yard line was the story from this game. Cornerback play was an issue, but Nick Bosa and Arden Key continue to get timely sacks.
When they get out of their way, the 49ers remain one of the best teams in the NFL. They’re hot, healthy, and trending in the way you want as the season winds down. This is a dangerous team, and they’re playing as though they realize that’s true.