On a day with plenty of room for new faces to shine, the 49ers entered Sunday's game lamenting the losses of starting quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, center, linebacker, defensive tackle, both cornerbacks, both defensive ends, and top two running backs, among others.
Head Coach Kyle Shanahan fielded an unrelenting barrage of injury-related questions from the media this week leading up to the game against the Giants, speaking with conviction about the depth in his team. “Teams do go through this,” Shanahan said last Monday, “but the thing that makes you excited about that is that we do have a lot of good players on our team. Players that people know about, who I think can still get better, and I also think there's a lot of people that people don't know about who this opens up opportunities for, who can get better.”
It was easy to see Sunday where Shanahan’s confidence was derived. The offense finished the game with 36 points and 39:44 total time of possession. Led by backup quarterback Nick Mullens, who completed 25 of 36 attempts for 343 yards, one TD, and a QB rating of 108.9, the pedestrian Giants defense was no match for San Francisco’s team that was bolstered by a handful of backups that didn’t play like second-string players.
Mullens became the first quarterback Sunday since Joe Montana to throw for 220-plus yards in nine-straight starts, but credits his team around him for his success. “We have really good football players, and we are well aware of that,” Mullens told reporters. “We got 53 guys who are ready to work, do their job, and step up when their number is called.”
Rookie WR Brandon Aiyuk hauled in five receptions for 70 yards and added three carries for 31 yards and a touchdown. His 19-yard TD run was the first of his career, as three Niners blockers outnumbered Giants defensive players to lead the way for Aiyuk to enter the endzone untouched. After the game, Aiyuk was excited about his progression this year after missing the first game of the season. “Last week was fun to get out there and get my feet wet a little bit,” he said postgame. “After I got that out the way I was excited to get to work this week and I knew I’d be more of an option in the offense.”
Despite being without top two running backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman, the 49ers maintained a strong presence on the ground with two fresh-faced backs. Jerrick McKinnon rushed for 38 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries, finding the end-zone for the third consecutive game this year. Running back Jeff Wilson Jr. registered 12 carries for 15 yards and one touchdown to go along with three receptions for 54 yards and another TD, the first time Wilson Jr. has scored one rushing TD and one receiving TD in the same game. McKinnon was forced to leave the game in the fourth quarter after suffering an upper rib injury and will be further evaluated by team doctors Monday.
Backup tight end Jordan Reed went down with an ankle and then knee injury, and third-string tight end Ross Dwelley came in to tie his career-high four receptions and register a career-record 49 yards, including an impressive 20-yard grab on 2nd-and-11 and a handful of contested catches.
“Dwelley [is] the most consistent guy in the building, or one of them, since he’s been here, and just proved it every single time he’s got the chance, he continues to do that today” Mullens said about the third-string tight end, before echoing Shanahan’s confidence. “We got 53 guys who are ready to work, do their job, and step up when their number is called.”
The Niners never punted for just the 8th time in franchise history and first time since 1993. The nearly 40 minutes of total possession was the most by the team since 2018.
The 49ers defense was well prepared for an already struggling Giants offense without their star running back Saquan Barkley, who suffered a season ending ACL injury of his own last week against the Chicago Bears. The 49ers consistently stuffed the opposing team’s run game, not allowing a single red zone appearance for the Giants who were unable to reach the end zone in the contest.
Linebacker Fred Warner picked off Giants quarterback Daniel Jones late in the first half to register his first interception of the season and second of his career. "I've got to shout out [Jaquiski] Tartt, because before they even snapped the ball, he was alerting it to me," Warner said postgame. "I saw the formation and was thinking it. The coaches do a great job of getting us ready throughout the week. And it just played out perfect where I read the quarterback's eyes, kind of baited him into throwing it, and was able to take it home."
In his first game with the team, defensive lineman Dion Jordan registered two tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, and recovered a fumble by Jones. Defensive lineman Kerry Hyder Jr. came up with his second sack of the season, and safety Marcel Harris forced a fumble on Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton, the third in Harris’s career.
Shanahan told the team in the locker room after the game, “I’m just so happy about the team win. The offense controlled the ball the way we did, to not punt in the game or to not have a turnover in the game, for the defense to have three turnovers, I think they kept them out of the red zone the entire game.” He was pleased and composed in the postgame Zoom conference, saying, “Guys were fired up today, we’ve been on the road for a while, we’re real excited to get on this plane, celebrate a little bit and get back to our families.”
The 49ers head back to the West Coast with a pair of wins as they get ready to take on the Philadelphia Eagles at Levi’s Stadium next Sunday. While they hope to have some more guys back from injury for this potentially playoff-relevant NFC matchup, the team looks poised to progress with the players they currently have available.
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