The San Francisco 49ers playoff opener was an all-time blood pressure game for those with a rooting interest in either side. Kyle Shanahan got the 4th quarter monkey off his back, as his team came back when trailing, entering the fourth quarter for the first time in 30 attempts.
The Green Bay Packers had several chances to ice the game away, but the 49ers cashed in on their inexperience in all three phases.
The offense did it by leaning on Jauan Jennings on Chris Conley during the final drive instead of Deebo Samuel, who was banged up with a shoulder injury that kept Samuel from returning to play any meaningful snaps.
Samuel was initially evaluated for a head injury before being tackled on a second down reception with just over five minutes left in the first quarter. Samuel did not return.
During his press conference, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told the local media there wouldn’t be an update until after Samuel’s MRI on Sunday. Shanahan likened this injury to the same hairline fracture Deebo suffered against the Cleveland Browns in October.
Much will be made about how the 49ers lost those the next two games against the Cleveland Browns and the Minnesota Vikings without Deebo. Interceptions, fumbles, a missed game-winning field goal, a horrific pair of defensive penalties on back-to-back plays, and an interception-turned-touchdown on an inexplicable all-out blitz before halftime were the reasons the Niners lost those two games.
That’s not to minimize the impact Deebo has on the offense. His multiplicity is what makes the Niners so dangerous. Samuel is the only player in the NFL to align in the backfield, in the slot, out wide, and inline on 5 percent or more of snaps, per Next Gen Stats. His presence was palpably missed on third downs over the middle and when the 49ers needed someone to create after the catch.
There’s no replacing a player with over 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns from scrimmage. Shanahan knows how difficult it is to replace a unique talent like Deebo:
“It’s always a huge challenge when you lose one of your best players, but Deebo is a little more unique just because of the way we do use him. There’s not many more people who can do that stuff. When he is a big part of the game plan — which he always is — and he goes out that early, you’ve got to move a lot of people around, do a number of different things. I thought we handled it better today than we did against Cleveland, but we still need to do it better than we did.”
ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted that Samuel told the organization he’d be okay for next week. In a follow-up tweet, so you’re saying there’s a chance:
Asked if Deebo Samuel had a chance to play in next Sunday’s conference championship game, one source said, “Yes I do.” https://t.co/SqwpygR6OQ— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 21, 2024
The Ball goes to Deebo in the games that matter the most. Against the Ravens in Week 16, he had 14 combined rushes and targets. In the two games against the Seahawks this season, Deebo combined for 23 rushes and targets.
Watching Shanahan adjust on the fly, it was painfully evident that Samuel was the focal point of the game plan against the Packers. It’ll be a bit easier to scheme around Deebo with a week to prepare for the NFC Championship, but there is no “next man up” when it comes to Samuel’s skill set.
Samuel had three weeks between contact when he sustained his previous hairline fracture since the 49ers had their bye in Week 10. There’s a game going on in three weeks. If the Niners advance, it will take more than a hairline fracture for Deebo to miss the Super Bowl.