The 49ers shocked the world by beating the Green Bay Packers in primetime after a stagnant first-half performance by the offense. Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan has gotten the most out of his team when the stakes are the highest. Last week's Divisional win was far from pretty, but it had several bad things that they can make good.
We look at my five takeaways below.
Ryans’ head coaching stock is through the roof
I’ve been one of the biggest DeMeco Ryans fans all season, and San Francisco could be in deep trouble by losing Ryans in the offseason. Ryans’ head coaching stock is sky-high after holding the front runner for MVP (Aaron Rodgers) to 10 points a week after holding Dak Prescott to negative EPA in several different categories.
This all after a 10-play Green Bay touchdown drive on their first possession. Rodgers successfully targeted Davante Adams early in the first quarter —which started to make me think, well, it was a helluva a season and that it could get ugly quickly.
But no, a Fred Warner forced fumble shifted momentum back to San Francisco on the Niners’ following defensive possession. Ryans’ defense would go on and force back-to-back three and outs and kept Matt LaFleur’s offense off the board until early in the fourth quarter.
The 49ers pass rush pressured Rodgers 11 times (32.4% pressure rate), the unit’s 7th-consecutive game over 30%, and the highest rate Rodgers has faced in a game this season. Disrupting the quarterback has been huge for the defense and will be a deciding factor in facing Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckahm Jr. this week.
Ryans has adjusted through the season and gotten this defense to elite levels with limited cornerback talent and being able to get home with a four-man rush. Head coaching vacancies tend to get filled by people who can constantly adapt. The first-year defensive coordinator now finds himself as one of the hottest targets on the market.
SF lucky to make it out the first half down 7
This could easily be another subheading for Ryans’ defense saving the offense, but it goes to show that when the Niners' offense executes, they can hang with anyone. It would be easy for me to say if Jimmy Garoppolo played better that they wouldn't be in that position but drops hindered the offense as well. Offensive struggles continue to loom deep in the playoffs, and San Francisco can set themselves up with better execution next week.
The 49ers scored TDs on league-high 73.8% of red zon trips the first 14 games of the season and are 6 for 16 (37.5%) the past five games. https://t.co/O8bq2in0CC— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) January 25, 2022
We knew there would be pressure on the offense to score with the best quarterback they’ve seen all year on the other sideline. In contrast, the game turned into a slugfest because of San Francisco’s inability to move the ball in the first half.
The #Niners have won three straight elimination games on the road by a combined total of 12 points. In those games their QB has thrown one touchdown and four interceptions.— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) January 23, 2022
Garoppolo’s play hasn’t dictated wins, and that can drastically change with competent play. It’s a weekly reminder that this offense could be deadly but continues to be held back by Garoppolo. Los Angeles steamrolled the Arizona Cardinals, and a Matthew Stafford bomb late in the fourth quarter held off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. The Rams look as dialed in as ever, and Shanahan will need his $25 million man.
Samuels’ 3rd & 7 run showed how this team has fought all season
Saturday’s lion-hearted win came down to a game of inches. The offense wasn't that sharp, as mentioned earlier. All-Pro receiver Deebo Samuel has given the 49ers offense a boost week in and week out. Samuel has had game-sealing runs in back-to-back playoff games.
Green Bay was able to limit Samuels’ explosive runs, but his impact goes beyond the box score. Samuel’s physicality matched with improved quickness this season has matched the team's toughness. His nine-yard run on 3rd and 7 with 63 seconds remaining in the game felt like his strongest run of the season.
Richard Hightower, I'm sorry
I’ve given special teams coach Richard Hightower a hard time in recent memory. However, Hightowers special team unit was the second-best phase from San Francisco’s win Saturday. Jimmie Ward’s blocked field goal before the half calmed nerves after Aaron Jones went untouched for 75 yards from Green Bay’s own 11-yard line.
I have to give credit to “NinersSb6” he dropped a tweet proposing Samuel returning kicks, and I quickly opposed it. In the second half, Samuel returned the opening kick-off for 45 yards. I don't know if Hightower made the call, but it gave the offense a ton of momentum and get a field goal out of the drive.
Jordan Willis’ blocked punt (returned by Talanoa Hufanga for a touchdown) could not have come at a better time. This special team's gift tied the game at 10 with less than five minutes left in the game. Robbie Gould deserves a helmet sticker also. His walk-off field goal almost made me forget about his 2022 cap hit.
The 49ers’ resilience is a quality of a Super Bowl-winning team
"That made us who we are. I think that's why we're the team we are right now. And that's why we're still standing."— Sam Hustis (@SamHustis) January 23, 2022
-Kyle Shanahan on the 49ers overcoming adversity pic.twitter.com/KKFaxTpq4j
San Francisco has been able to gel together and figure out how to win when things get rough. Shanahan preached, “you don't want to label things good or bad. Because you want to learn from some things that you think are bad that can make it good later.” That quote goes a long way, even dating back to his 10-22 start with the Niners.
Living in the moment is why the Niners have found success late into January. There was optimism when I picked this team to finish the season with a 10-7 record and make the playoffs.
The defense has done everything they can to win games. I expect them to continue to play at a high level. San Francisco’s most formidable challenge will be the division games. After that, it’s up to the offense to save the Niners’ playoff hopes.
The optimism came from being 2-3—when they dropped to 3-5, I jumped the gun and questioned Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. When in reality, the team would turn their season around with a win at Levi’s Stadium over the 7-3 Los Angeles Rams the following week.
I really don't know how to explain this team, but I can say they fight harder than I ever imagine.
I hate to make this sound like my final post (because it's not), but this season has been an amazing experience. The 49ers have another chance to become Super Bowl champions if they can handle business at SoFi Stadium Sunday.
Sometimes it feels like I need to be pinched to realize that they are a game away from the big dance. Keeping key guys healthy going into the NFC Championship is huge. Rams head coach Sean McVay looks to break the six-game losing streak against his former boss. I’d imagine McVay is a lot more aggressive when targeting these cornerbacks downfield.