The San Francisco 49ers may have gotten their most resilient win of the season in Sunday’s win over the Atlanta Falcons. Niner's defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans watched his defense show up when the team needed them most.
Kyle Shanahan saw his offense step on the gas with four touchdown drives in a row through the second and third quarters. San Francisco has a lot of momentum built up, and they cannot let their foot off the gas.
We look at my five takeaways below.
The defense continues to make plays when they need it most
The game started with a JaMycal Hasty fumble on the opening kickoff, and the defense showed up like we’ve seen them do all year. Atlanta’s drive started on San Francisco’s 12-yard line, and Ryans’ defense forced a turnover on downs while defending their goal-line four plays in a row.
Falcons ran 5 plays from the #49ers' 1-yard line today. They didn't score a touchdown on any of them.— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) December 19, 2021
It’s impressive that four out of the five plays that ran from the 1-yard line happened in one drive. The 49ers stopped Cordarrelle Patterson twice, and Jaquiski Tartt’s stop on fourth down was one of the best uplifting plays of the game. Tartt did a great job of climbing over the pick play to make a play on the ball.
“Three was the number of times the 49ers’ defense forced the Falcons to turn the ball over on downs inside the 49ers’ 10-yard line, the first time in the last 40 years that a defense could pull that feat off in a single game.” The defensive stops are what made this win so resilient.
My favorite stop came on Atlanta’s second offensive possession in the third quarter. Cornerbacks Ambry Thomas and Josh Norman gave up explosive plays on this drive, but the defense rallied together and held Atlanta to a field goal.
Pass rush made Matt Ryan’s day hectic
San Francisco’s defense hit Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan ten times, making his day a living nightmare. The cornerback group has been under major scrutiny all season while the underlying pass-rush went under the rug. Ryans’ defensive line has come alive with nine-plus quarterback hits in back-to-back games.
I mentioned that Arden Key has quietly helped this pass rush, and we saw him flourish Sunday despite the bad roughing the passer penalty. Samson Ebukam has continued to grow as he has contributed two quarterback hits in back-to-back games.
Nick Bosa has looked comfortable as ever in his third season with San Francisco. His strip-sack on Ryan gave the Niners offense the ball in Atlanta territory and upped his season sack total to 15, and he leads the NFL in tackles for loss.
The cornerback group is going to need all the help they can get, and it starts with the defensive line. This group was expected to be one of the top groups in the NFL, and they are finally hitting their stride. San Francisco’s playoff push will be strengthened by the continued high level of play.
49ers rushing attack shows up
San Francisco’s offense had its third-highest rushing total of the season Sunday. First, I have to commend the offensive line for cleaning things up after looking shaky to start the season. Second, I did not have much faith in Jeff Wilson Jr. because he hasn't shown the explosive runs this offense needs. Nevertheless, he silenced me with four runs over 12 yards, and his heads-up fumble recovery prevented another 49er turnover. Wilson met the 100-yard rushing mark for the third time of his career and had his best game of the season Sunday.
Deebo Samuel just knocked this CB's mouthpiece to Los Gatos pic.twitter.com/aJpbSKQ554— Sam Hustis (@SamHustis) December 19, 2021
Deebo Samuel tied for the most rushing touchdowns by a wide receiver in NFL history against Atlanta. Samuel has continued to be a touchdown machine as he is tied for the fifth (12) most total touchdowns scored (rushing and receiving). The clip above shows Samuel imposing his will, and the Niners will need that going forward.
Everything is better when the running game is clicking. It sets up the play-action pass, it keeps the defense guessing, and ultimately it keeps San Francisco’s defense off the field. The running back room will be strengthened when Elijah Mitchell returns. Shanahan will need multiple running backs to anchor this run game heading into the playoffs.
Most dominating win of the season?
It’s easy to look at a different game’s box score and say it was more dominating, but San Francisco took the life out of Atlanta Sunday. I get the argument for the Rams and Jaguar games as better performances, but San Francisco looked polished against the Falcons.
Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was able to stay posied against Dean Pees’ defense. He did not force anything, and he was able to deliver a few big-time throws. Garoppolo has to continue the trend of avoiding turnovers. The weight of the offense remains on Garoppolo’s shoulders despite the progressed running game.
The Niners finally broke the curse of no touchdowns in the second half in back-to-back weeks. Shanahan’s offense showed their ability to score at will with four possessions in a row with a touchdown. San Francisco's offense has to continue to help the defense out by putting points on the board.
Can this team reach the Super Bowl?
I truly believe that San Franciso’s Super Bowl window has opened. There isn’t a clear path to the big dance, but the Niners have a team with a shot. The offense has the playmakers to put the points on the board, and the defense has proven they can make key stops.
The cornerback situation still worries me as I was almost shocked to see they got a C- in Marc Delucchi’s position grades. Thomas and Norman both continue to be a liability as we saw them both give up explosive plays. San Francisco will face better receivers in the playoffs, and we have seen how the corners respond with talent in front of them.
Shanahan’s team has continued the trend of shooting themselves in the foot. Hasty’s fumble on the opening kickoff easily could've turned to seven points. The Niners can’t leave the door open for any opposing team. The next three games will show what the Niners are made of, with two playoff teams remaining on the schedule.
San Francisco handled business against a team they were superior to in the Atlanta Falcons. The Niners now have a tough task of a short practice week in preparation for the Tennessee Titans. Opening as 3.5-point favorites makes sense with Tennessee having to plugin so many new players. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel has done a great job leading this group despite them missing key players.
Beating another playoff team will strengthen their Super Bowl window. San Francisco cannot let their guard down; hence their playoff spot isn't fully guaranteed. Another 30 point performance should seal this game for the 49ers.