The title of our game thread Sunday was “expect the unexpected.” First, the Ravens and Steelers had gone into overtime. Then, the Jaguars upset the Colts. The morning slate of games was a precursor of what was to come.
During the first half, endless tweets were complaining about how Kyle Shanahan deserved what was happening for playing Jimmy Garoppolo with a torn UCL in his thumb. The 49ers' defense had a better shot of hitting the lottery than stopping the Rams on third down.
You know how the story ends. Down 17, San Francisco came back to beat a 12-win team on the road. The defense deserves credit for holding the Rams to 57 passing yards in the second half. The offense, specifically Jimmy, rose to the occasion in a must-win situation.
Here are the best quotes from the postgame from Shanahan and the players.
Shanahan was asked if he felt like his team had a chance when they were down 17-0 in the second quarter. He jokingly said no at first but then followed up with: “You always do. It really helped scoring at the end of the second quarter. It helped winning the coin toss. After the first drive of the third quarter, it was back to normal.”
You know you have the other team’s number when you trail for the majority of the game, bring the score within one possession, and come away thinking everything is back to normal.
Shanahan called Garoppolo “unbelievable” Sunday. The 49ers don’t beat the Rams with a rookie quarterback. I’m not saying Trey Lance would have turned the ball over, but I have my doubts he would have led a drive at the end of the half or gone 88 yards in a minute against Aaron Donald and Von Miller.
Shanahan talked about the resolve on this team and how it’s tough to keep guys together when you lose four games in a row in most buildings. But, the Niners showed more than enough fight against the Rams.
Why Colton McKivitz over Jaylon Moore
Shanahan said, “it wasn’t an easy decision” when asked why roll with Colton McKivitz over rookie Jaylon Moore. He continued: Colton’s been doing real well in practice the last month. Nothing against Jaylon at all. We planned on rotating them. We felt like, the way the game was going, we didn’t give him [McKivitz] enough of a fair opportunity. Then on at opening drive of the third quarter, we felt like he McKivitz] settled down, and we weren’t going to put Jalen in late, so we just stuck with that.
And Trent, he’s as much of a soldier as we have on our team. He did everything he could to play today. He was heartbroken. He got up here early in the morning and wasn’t able to do it. He wasn’t healthy enough. I’m just glad that we’re giving him another chance to come back and have another one.”
Von Miller had a sack against McKivitz when it mattered the most. He beat Colton a couple of times, but Garoppolo got rid of the ball too quickly on one third down, where it didn’t matter.
The Cowboys have athletes all over the defensive line. They have three formidable pass rushers on the edge. The Rams had one. San Francisco needs Williams to play Sunday.
Good for you, Ambry
Ambry Thomas gave up a touchdown where he was essentially mossed once again in the end zone. Thomas also sealed the game with an interception. I asked him what it’s like playing cornerback in the NFL, knowing you must have a short-term memory to succeed.
Before my question, Thomas said the moment he knew he belonged in the NFL was earlier this year in practice when he had two interceptions in the same period, and general manager John Lynch looked t him and said, “yeah, I’m here.”
Thomas went to bat for himself and his fellow cornerbacks: “People don’t know that cornerback is a very tough position. Everyone wants to talk stuff about the corners. It’s a challenge. People don’t understand how hard it is. My hats off to the cornerbacks who really perform at a high level.
Infectious energy from Jauan
Jauan Jennings is a ball of energy. It’s easy to root for him as you can see his growth as a player. But I’d say it’s easier to root for him based on how he handles himself with the media and how genuinely happy he is all of the time.
I asked Jennings if he recalled a point in the season when he started to earn the coach’s trust and if it was humbling not playing early in the season:
It’s humbling to get drafting in the seventh round. It’s humbling to get cut and go on the practice squad. It’s humbling all around the board. To get hurt and not be able to play. All that humbles you. It’s the way you bounce back. This team makes it easy to bounce back. No matter how great the play is or how bad it is, you always have somebody in your corner picking you up. That’s what it’s about.
That answer proves my point. To a man, Shanahan, Garoppolo, and George Kittle all had glowing reviews about Jennings.
I thought it was telling that the team went to Jennings on two third downs in a row when they needed points in the fourth quarter.
We don’t have to compare Jennings and Kendrick Bourne. That’s not fair to either player. It’s evident that the 49ers found their WR3, though.
Garoppolo praises his playmakers
When Jimmy plays on time, hits his receivers in stride, this offense is unstoppable. Garoppolo spoke about his playmakers after the game:
Deebo made a nice catch and run. That’s what that guy does. He’s the best in the league at it. When you have guys like that, like we have, BA, Deebo, Jauan, George, all of the running backs, Juice. When you get them the ball in space, those guys will go and make plays for you. That’s really what I was trying to do today. Let those guys go make plays and let those guys be special.
Timing is everything in this offense. Jimmy knows that.
It still was far from perfect. Garoppolo had the two interceptions. I thought JaMycal Hasty could have caught the ball down the sideline. Deebo had a drop. Mitchell ran hard and finished with 85 yards rushing, but he had to earn every yard. The 49ers scored 27 points on a day where Kittle had five receptions for ten yards.
Deebo speaks his mind
Deebo was hilarious during his media availability. What makes him so funny is he’s just answering naturally. He’s organically funny.
On the 55-yard catch toward the end of the game, Samuel said, “if I had my shirt tucked in, I would have scored.” When asked if it felt like a home game, Deebo nonchalantly said, “it definitely did. I feel like the Rams pump noise because there wasn’t really that many Rams fans in here.”
Wow. Shots fired. He wasn’t wrong, though. The crowd roared when the 49ers took the field. During the third quarter, the defensive line fed off the energy from the crowd.
Deebo said, “I was hurting. They were stepping on me, twisting my ankle.” Samuel made it clear that he’d be feeling it in the morning.
Warner credits the defensive line
We know about the speed and stars on offense. But we hinted all week how the defensive line would be the reason the 49ers win this game. I asked Warner about the four guys in front of him and how important the defensive line is to this team moving forward, especially if they make a run in the playoffs:
Pass and run game. They were having a heck of a game in the first half. We knew we had to stop the run, and we were doing that. We were giving up the third and longs. We had to tighten up on our side in the backend. They just kept at it. Chipping away chipping away. Once things everything started to marry up, that’s when you saw the big plays upfront. But those interior guys and everyone disrupting in the backfield and the run game. Making those big stops. They’ve been exactly who they’ve been all game.
Teams will continue to double Nick Bosa. Sunday, Arden Key and Arik Armstead were relentless while D.J. Jones, Kevin Givens, and even Kentavius Street flashed against the run. The depth was tested Sunday, and the 49ers passed with flying colors.