Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo silenced the naysayers (including me) with their second half and overtime performance.
We take a look at my five takeaways below.
I was wrong for doubting this team
First and foremost, I’d like to apologize for doubting Shanahan, Garoppolo, and the 49ers as a whole. Beating Los Angeles six times in a row is an incredible feat, especially when the Rams have been a playoff team the last two seasons.
Shanahan’s legacy is far from being written, but making the playoffs does give him some breathing room. There was little chance that Shanahan was fired after the season, but I think we all (49er fans) expected to make the playoffs with the scattered exceptional talent on this team.
San Francisco's resiliency in the second half was the hardest I've seen this team fight all season. The 49ers had just a 0.4% chance of winning after punting with 1:57 remaining in the game. It worried me punting that late into the game to a talented offense but 4th and 18 was a hard ask for the offense.
I will put my pitchfork down when it comes to general manager John Lynch’s firing. However, he also deserves credit for this team making the playoffs after starting 3-5.
Shanahan’s offense can hang with anyone when Garoppolo is dialed in
I have stressed that San Francisco will need to score 30 points to win most of their games. The Niners didn't get to 30, but you could see how this offense has the capability to score at will.
“I think playing an injured Jimmy Garoppolo will backfire” was a wrong statement by me, and I own it. Garoppolo had two turnovers and several throws off-target, but he got the job done when the team needed him the most.
Garoppolo went 4-of-5 on the final drive for 83 yards and a score. Check out his throwing chart. He used the entire field and made plays with a thumb injury many expected would keep him out for weeks:
Ten attempts over ten yards and eight over 15 yards. That’s why the offense had so much space to work with.
San Francisco’s defense deserves some credit
Niner's defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans kept Rams quarterback Matt Stafford under duress. The 49ers pass-rush sacked Stafford five times and hit him 13 times. Arik Armstead and company have helped anchor the defense by getting to the quarterback.
Ryans was able to hold Los Angeles to seven points without his star nickel corner in K’Waun Williams. Instead, Darqueze Denard got plenty of reps at nickel after joining the team last week.
Shanahan said after the game that Dontae Johnson had to play some reps at safety in their Dime package when Talanoa Hufanga went down. Through his struggles, I’ve been tough on Johnson, but his versatility has helped San Francisco’s defense tremendously.
The Rams had 103 yards in the second half. Stafford was 5-of-12 for 76 yards, a touchdown, an interception, and a QB rating of 56.3.
In their wild card matchup, the Niners’ secondary faces another group of talented receivers. Therefore the narrative of limiting explosive plays will continue.
How about the special teams unit?
Robbie Gould had to take over punting duties for Mitch Wishnowsky as he left the game with a concussion. Gould had a 45.0-yard net average on two fourth-quarter punts with Wishnowsky out. Kyle Juszczyk also deserves some credit for being the emergency holder.
The pressure for a player to get the hold down when he hasn’t done, so all season is enormous. Juice had to deal with a high snap but handled it to perfection.
The Cowboys are very talented but beatable
The Dallas Cowboys are incredibly talented, but they tend not to play up to their ability. Garoppolo will have to be turnover-free to make the game easier against another high-powered offense. Dallas has struggled with competent teams outside of the NFC East.
San Francisco has the offensive weapons to compete with the Cowboys. They should also run it all over Dallas. They’re fast on defense but nowhere near as physical as the 49ers. We’ll get into those matchups soon, but the Niners have to feel good about their playoff opponent.