59 minutes and 8 seconds. If football games were exactly that long, Deebo Samuel could’ve proudly finished a day of work, knowing he’d just amassed the best statistical outing of his career without incident. But, instead, he sweated those final tick-tocks of the clock on the sideline, hoping and praying for the defense to pick up what he had dropped.
After his fumble gave the Lions one last desperate chance to tie it up, the cameraman made sure to find him repeatedly in between the action. He sat on the ground, knees pulled in close to his body, arms draped over them. The position suggested a man who wanted to shrink down and disappear.
However, the contest did end, and when looking up at the scoreboard, the 49ers had still won, even if it hadn’t felt like they had. Samuel confirmed this in his post-game interview, saying, “Kyle actually asked the team how we feel about the win, and nobody said anything...”
The rest of his press conference maintained a borderline somber tone that wasn’t befitting of a player that racked up 9 catches for 189 yards and a TD. Unfortunately, Jason Verrett, a beloved teammate, who Samuel goes up against in practice regularly, suffering an apparent ACL tear and narrowly avoiding a 28-point collapse against a Lions team that appeared mostly hapless, will do that to you.
But, as they say, a win is a win, and that’ll always be better than losing, especially in a division that, after a single week, already looks like the best of the NFL. Given that fact, I think it’s safe to celebrate Deebo’s dominant performance.
From the jump, Samuel looked exponentially more explosive than he did in 2020 when he never seemed to recover from breaking a bone in his foot during player-led offseason workouts. This began a domino effect of him starting the year out of shape, which snowballed into a hamstring strain in Week 7 that hobbled him for three games. He returned for three more, only to reaggravate the injury and end his year.
This Sunday, any lingering doubts or concerns about diminished burst were erased, as Samuel did damage on catches in open space over the middle, where he transformed into a bully ball bulldozer. His first grab came 20 yards downfield and ended with him dragging a trailing defender a few more yards, then lowering his shoulder into the man ahead of him.
Later in the second quarter, he had an almost identical pitch and catch after finding the same patch of unoccupied grass. He scampered away from the closest defender for an additional 8 yards of YAC and a total gain of 23. It took two Lions defenders converging on him to stop his momentum.
Two plays later, in the red zone, Samuel crossed behind the offensive line that was moving right on a play-action fake. The brilliant design left him matched up against an overmatched linebacker, who couldn’t disrupt his route. Rolling to the left, Garoppolo laid in a perfect touch pass that the rumbling receiver took to the three-yard line, setting up first and goal.
A staple of Samuel’s game has been his usage as an extension of the rushing attack. In this vein, he took a pair of jet sweep passes, the first for a solid chunk of yardage and a first down, plus a face mask that helped set the Niners up for a field goal to end the half.
Finally, let’s talk about Samuel’s masterpiece. Lined up in man coverage against Jeff Okudah, the former third overall pick, Deebo took an outside lane and streaked 25 yards down the sideline. Under pressure, Garoppolo let a wobbly pass fly that was just enough behind them to let Samuel adjust back to it by throwing on the brakes and send the engaged defender careening to the ground.
After securing the catch, Deebo cut inside, leaving a poorly leveraged safety and everyone else in the dust on his way to a 79 yard TD. The play further demonstrated just how polished his skills are in all facets. He clearly possesses the route running, tracking, and catching abilities to be a top flight wide receiver.
The play eclipsed all 49er passing TDs from 2020, as the longest score through the air, when no other wideout had a reception over 50 yards. There hasn’t been a longer passing TD since Week 14 of 2018 when Nick Mullens found George Kittle for an 85 yarder.
It’s also reminiscent of, perhaps, Samuel’s previously best-known play. Against the Ravens in 2019, Samuel made a similar, like eerily similar, adjustment against Marcus Peters to get on the board first. As you can see, the two highlights sync up pretty well.
Obviously, the game didn’t end exactly the way anyone would’ve drawn it up, Samuel included. Still, his arrival as a threat at all levels is something that will only make the offense more productive and victories easier. So, watch out, here comes Deebo.