The Chargers wasted no time as they marched 75 yards in seven plays on the game's opening drive. Justin Herbert completed passes for 14, 17, and 32 yards en route to a touchdown. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great start for Dre Greenlaw or Talanoa Hufanga.
The 49ers' offense got around midfield, as they tend to do. The question, as always, was whether or not they’d punch it in. A 20-yard reception to Brandon Aiyuk put the offense in the red zone. An Elijah Mitchell carry gave the offense the first down. And before you knew it, they were inside of the 5-yard line.
The offense couldn’t punch it in after failing to run into the teeth of the defense, and they had to settle for a field goal. So, an impressive drive stalls, and the Niners couldn’t answer with a touchdown. So, it was 7-3 after one possession each.
The defense did its job by forcing a punt, but Brandon Aiyuk, after taking a big hit from Derwin James, fumbled the ball after a 20-yard reception. That put the defense in a predicament as they faced a short field from the 32-yard line. The Chargers gained five yards on three plays before settling for a field goal. That made the score 10-3.
Both teams traded punts, with three straight three-and-outs. But Mitch Wishnowsky had a punt deflected, not blocked, which meant another short field for the defense. They gave up 39 yards after Jimmie Ward gave up an explosive play. To be fair to him, Justin Herbert threw a perfect pass:
Staring at 1st & goal from the 2, the defense didn’t budge. A Nick Bosa sack and an open-field tackle from Jimmie helped hold the Chargers to another field goal. That made the score 13-3.
The 49ers needed an answer, and they got one. A 9-play, 75-yard drive that saw George Kittle pick up 21 yards after Jimmy missed Deebo open on 2nd & 12. But Garoppolo made up for it with one of if not his best throw of the season to Ray-Ray McCloud down the right sideline for a gain of 33. Garoppolo capped the drive off with a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
The defense gave up a field goal before the half after Herbert used his legs on multiple plays. Dre Greenlaw was ejected after a helmet-to-helmet hit. The quarterback was a runner, so there’s no real reason for an ejection. Also, you can’t prove there was anything malicious by Greenlaw.
I’m usually not the “throw the flag” type, but the refs had their fair share of misses tonight. Deebo Samuel was face masked. Nick Bosa was held. Jake Brendel was called for a ticky-tack holding call. I just wish the refs would remove themselves from the game and let the players play.
The defense didn’t allow much of anything after this field goal. Since the first drive, the 49ers’ defense had forced 4 punts and held the Chargers to two field goals when they took over in Niner territory. They allowed a field goal at the end of the first half, but DeMeco Ryans and company have been lights out since the initial drive.
They needed to be because the offense could not find the end zone. Aiyuk dropped a pass on third and goal that would have been a touchdown. On their next drive, the 49ers marched 14 plays for 77 yards on a drive that took 6:59. Garoppolo stood tall against the blitz, and Aiyuk made a tough grab before McCaffrey found the end zone. Unfortunately, Robbie Gould missed the extra point to make the score 19-16.
That felt like a monumental miss. The 49ers, seemingly, can never do things the easy way. Instead of forcing the Chargers to score a touchdown, they left the door open for Los Angeles to tie the game with a field goal.
But the defense didn’t seem interested in allowing them to move the ball, as Nick Bosa picked up his second sack of the game, and Azeez Al-Shaair made a tackle to help get the defense off the field to force yet another 3-and-out.
The 49ers faced a 3rd & 9 with just over four minutes left in the game. It was a critical down, and Garoppolo threw a dart outside of the numbers to Aiyuk to pick up 11 yards for a first down.
After a punt, Mitch Wishnowsky pinned the Chargers at the 1-yard line with just about two minutes to play. Los Angeles made it to the 8-yard line, elected to go for it on 4th & 2, and Jordan Willis got pressure to effect Herbert’s throw.
The 49ers play with a different level of ferocity and violence defensively. Add in the team speed, and it’s easy to see why they’ve pitched a shutout this half. They are a fun unit to watch. Remember, there are multiple backups on the field, but you’d have no idea. The Chargers had a couple of big plays, but on a down-to-down basis, the defense was incredible.
The Chargers had a 32 percent success rate offensively. That’s 22 percentage points lower than the 49ers. Fittingly, the game was capped off by a Talanoa Hufanga interception. It wasn’t pretty, but it never is with this team.
22-16, 49ers win.