Going into their second-straight primetime game last night, the San Francisco 49ers were still saddled with the narrative of the unexpected rebooting of their former quarterback, James Richard Garoppolo, who wasn't "former" for very long. To be fair, it is a dramatic storyline worthy of rehashing by the national announcers who roll into town and pick up a script still being written.
When would that narrative fade, though? When would the 49ers' season take on a momentum of its own? When would Jimmy G just be the QB again, and not the guy who had said his goodbyes, packed his bags and had surgery, only to be resurrected in the red and gold, like a ridiculously good-looking Frankenstein? When would the rest of the 49ers generate their own inertia, and make non-quarterback-related headlines?
Cue the 49ers' defense, which smothered the Los Angeles Rams last night in an impressive 24-9 win.
When asked about the Niners' defense after the game, Nick Bosa told ESPN, "I think it's best in the league. That's kind of our mindset every year, and this year we have the personnel to do it."
The Rams were contained to short-yardage gains last night and utterly denied any significant down-the-field plays by the 49ers' stingy D, who held LA to just three field goals. Last night was only the fourth time that the Rams, under Sean McVeigh, who took over in 2017, didn't score a touchdown in a game. The Niners have won seven straight regular season games against LA, which may only serve to highlight last year's heartbreaking NFC Title Game loss.
The Rams' opening drive ate up nearly 10 minutes and — following a 49ers' sack on 2nd and 9 — led to a 39-yard field goal. Jimmy G looked damn good on the Niners' opening drive, connecting with Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings right up the middle for a flurry of first downs that ultimately led to a 32-yard Jeff Wilson touchdown run. On LA's next possession, Bosa stepped around the offensive line to sack Rams' QB Matt Stafford on a 3rd and 9.
But the Niners' D had only just begun to ramp up.
LA got into the red zone about midway through the second quarter, but an incomplete pass in the end zone to Cooper Kupp would more or less be as close as the Rams got to punching it in. Another field goal, and it was 7-6 Niners.
Jimmy G would run for a first down on a 3rd and 2 to keep a Niners' drive alive. When Tyshun Raequan 'Deebo' Samuel caught a 3rd down and 3 pass from Garoppolo right around the 50 yard line a few plays later, it didn't have the makings of the highlight of the game. Samuel leapt to catch a throw that otherwise looked very intercept-able, and then had room to run. Was it missed tackles by the Rams, or simply Deebo being Deebo, that turned a short, unspectacular-looking play into a 57-yard 49er touchdown?
With under a minute left in the half, the Rams seemed like they might put together a drive, but the 49ers had back-to-back sacks on 2nd and 3rd downs, squashing any LA hopes of a late score.
The stinginess was in the air.
The Rams put together a long drive in the third quarter, making another trip to the red zone and another touchdown-pass attempt which was nearly picked by the Niners. That led to LA's third and final field goal of the game. The 49ers responded with a solid drive culminating in what looked like a George Kittle touchdown to start the fourth quarter, but the big tight end had stepped out of bounds. The Niners settled for the field goal to make it 17-9, keeping the game close, even though the Niners felt as if they were the dominant team.
"As we know Jimmy Garoppolo can play great, get into a streak, and then make a throw where you're just kind of left... a little bit... dazed and confused," said announcer Troy Aikman, tapping into a thing that we might all know about Jimmy G, but are reluctant to admit. "I imagine that Kyle Shanahan is going to protect the quarterback from himself and be a little conservative," Aikman continued. It was 3rd and 13, and the Niners were around their own 40 yard line.
"Alright alright alright," teased Job Buck (doing a pretty decent Matthew McConaughey from Dazed and Confused), as Jimmy G did indeed make a conservative toss to Deebo Samuel, who broke it for 29 yards to keep the drive alive. But a 42-yard Robbie Gould field-goal attempt was no good, and somehow, it was still a one-possession game.
Not to worry, Niners fans: The cherry was about to be placed atop the sundae by the defense. As the Rams began to drive, and had a 1st and 10 around midfield, Stafford slung yet another short-yard pass that the Niners' safety Talanoa Hufanga "read like a book."
"I saw a different release than I'm used to, so instead of following my man, I turned my head and the ball kind of dropped in my face," Hufanga told ESPN. "I'm not gonna lie, I thought Stafford was going to catch me."
Sure, the Rams drove again, and even converted on 4th down, but LA was met with another 49ers' sack, and finally, another turnover as Samson Ebukam got his hand on an attempted Matt Stafford pass on 3rd and 10.
"I was real happy overall with our whole team. It was a cool way to win. We knew it would be a battle to keep them out of the end zone," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told ESPN. "I thought DeMeco [Ryans, the 49ers' defensive coordinator] did a hell of a job mixing it up. I mean, you can't stick with one thing versus a team like that, versus a quarterback like that and he mixed it up throughout the game."
Top Image: Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images