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Winners, winners, and more winners after the 49ers thrilling comeback win over the Rams

No “losers” in Week 18

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Sunday’s game was fun. Sunday’s game was frustrating, exciting and made your blood pressure boil more than the usual 49ers “heart attack” style of game.

For the Niners to win, they needed “A” games from their “A” players. That task became even more challenging when it was announced that Trent Williams was out for the game. However, that didn’t stop San Francisco from scoring 24 points in the second half against one of the best defenses in the NFL.

Here’s a look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s game.

Deebo Samuel

Samuel was responsible for touchdowns through the air, on the ground, and as a receiver. He didn’t catch a touchdown, but Samuel drew a double team by going in jet motion, which forced two Rams’ defenders to go with him. That coverage bust left Jauan Jennings open for a critical red zone touchdown.

When he does touch the ball, you feel like he’s going to score every time. As soon as the ball was handed off on his touchdown run, you knew it was six.

I will say this after every game, and it’ll remain true: Humans aren’t supposed to get to top speed as quickly as Samuel does. His explosion, strength, and balance make him impossible to bring down.

Samuel turns one-yard carries into double-digit runs. When the first person tackles him, it’s a surprise. He finished with four receptions for 95 yards. When the 49ers were on life support with 52 seconds remaining, Samuel took a pass down the sideline and turned a 20 yard gain into a 43-yarder. You can’t coach that. You can’t stop him.

The defensive line

The Rams are good along the offensive line. What we saw Sunday was a group that was simply outmatched and overwhelmed by a more athletic, longer defensive lineman. I thought DeMeco Ryans and Kris Kocurek were masterful in the sense of finding the mismatch. The Rams interior line, specifically at center, was getting abused by D.J. Jones and Arik Armstead.

Jones had a critical sack and also beat the center for a stop when the 49ers' defense needed to get off the field toward the end of the game.

Armstead played bully ball all game. He finished with 2.5 sacks, a QB hit, and seven tackles. He lived in the Rams backfield. Matthew Stafford dropped back to pass 37 times. He was pressured on 76% of his dropbacks. That’s insane. Armstead led the team with seven pressures. Jones, Nick Bosa, and Arden Key all had four apiece.

Key had a sack and a quarterback hit and was this close to having another sack. The defensive line was relentless.

Jimmy Garoppolo

I watched Jimmy throw closely during the pre-game, and it was evident that his thumb wouldn’t be a factor. An overthrow that led to an interception, as well as a fumble that stalled a drive, had some wondering whether Garoppolo was bothered by his thumb.

Taking care of the football has been something Jimmy has struggled with all season. Garoppolo had a back-breaking interception where he threw it into what appeared to be triple coverage, and the “put Trey in” takes were flying.

Last week, I mentioned how forcing the ball to your star players should be viewed as a good thing. Jalen Ramsey made a superstar play. He’s one of the best players in the sport. That was a play that 1% of players make. While it cost the team points, I didn’t mind the process of the play.

After the game, Deebo said Jimmy didn’t complain about his thumb once all week, including during the game. We have to put an asterisk next to this performance, knowing that Garoppolo wasn’t supposed to play for another few weeks.

The 49ers finished the game converting 64% of their third downs. Garoppolo had 34 attempts with a 53% success rate (1% lower than Mathew Stafford) with 41% (6% higher than Stafford) of his throws resulting in a first down.

You cannot quantify being as successful as Jimmy and the offense are during end-of-game/half situations. We treat it as a foregone conclusion that the team will score. That’s because of the efficiency at quarterback.

There were plenty of plays where the line was beaten, but Garoppolo threw the ball before Von Miller could sack him. In most cases, sacks are a quarterback stat. The Rams have one of the best defensive lines in the league and only got to Jimmy twice.

Garoppolo is who he is as far as turnovers and risks go. Factoring in the injuries and how he never wavered, I became a fan of his Sunday.

No “losers”

Dontae Johnson against Cooper Kupp was a nightmare scenario. During the first half, Johnson made mistake after mistake. He missed a tackle, was caught in no man's land, gave up explosive plays. It was not good.

Johnson is a backup utility player. He had to play safety once Jaquiski Tartt went out. The only reason he was on the field was due to K’Waun Williams being injured. Of course, Johnson isn’t going to keep up with the wide receiver who was 53 yards shy of 2,000 yards.

JaMycal Hasty reversed his course on the 49ers' initial kick return, which led to a holding penalty. Then, toward the end of the half, Hasty elected to pick up a few extra meaningless yards as opposed to getting out of bounds. Hasty made up for both blunders when he ran through a tackle to convert a third-down later in the game.

We can lump in Travis Benjamin, who failed to catch a line drive punt. Live, it felt like the ball should have been fielded, and Benjamin could have had a double-digit punt return.

You hold your breath every time the Niners special teams take the field. Kudos to pulling the plug on Hasty and putting Deebo as the kick returner. Mitch Wishnowsky left with a concussion, and Robbie Gould ended up with a better average than the actual punter. Gould also made both of his field goals and all three extra points.

They weren’t flawless, but the 49ers didn’t lose the game because of their special teams.

Colton McKivitz allowed four pressures and two sacks. McKivitz hadn’t played a snap all season and, in his first action, went against Von Miller. The broadcast only mentioning McKivitz’s name twice was one of the biggest positives for the Niners all afternoon.

Winners - Jauan Jennings

Where did this guy come from? Jennings finished with 94 yards on seven targets with six receptions, including two touchdowns. Only one of Jennings’ catches didn’t result in a first down or touchdown.

I want to focus on how Jennings won on third down. The Rams put their best player, Ramsey, on Deebo. The way they funneled their coverage, it was basically saying, “beat us, Jennings.”

San Francisco countered by isolating Jennings in a slot, giving him a two-way go, and Los Angeles’s fourth cornerback didn’t stand a chance. Jennings wasn’t just winning on a five-yard out route and going out of bounds. He created for himself after the catch. The majority of Jennings's 34-yard reception came after the catch when he was breaking ankle tackles.

It’s fun to see this kid grow as a player and take advantage of his opportunities.

Elijah Mitchell

Mitchell finished the game with a 36% success rate. When you factor in how teams play the 49ers — 23% of his carries were into an 8-man box or more — it’s a miracle Mitchell was that successful.

Mitchell gained 68 of his 85 yards after contact, including eight broken tackles. The offense would have faced plenty of first or second and longs without Mitchell running through arm tackles. He’s doing it at such a high clip that we take his toughness for granted.

Outlook

I could name about five more players. Emmanuel Moseley had an interception, broke up a pass, and was in position all afternoon. He had six tackles and didn’t miss any — something that’s plagued the 49ers cornerbacks this season.

Brandon Aiyuk surpassed 100 yards for the first time all season. It was the quietest six reception, 107-yard performance of the year.

Sunday was a team win. The 49ers stars will get the credit, and deservedly so. But the defense relied on Darqueze Dennard in the slot, somebody they signed last week. In addition, Kevin Givens made a few splash plays at defensive tackle.

The 49ers are built to win in the playoffs. It was a journey to get there, but they made it. They’re not playing next week without the team effort on Sunday.