Sure, yesterday's 13-0 shutout of the New Orleans Saints was an awesome display of the San Francisco 49ers' crushing, league-leading defense. Sure, as the Niners sit atop the NFC West at 7-5, a playoff berth seems within grasp, maybe even inevitable. And sure, the 49ers have now won four in a row, but the true test of who this San Francisco team really is will come next week, when the 8-3 Miami Dolphins, who have won five in a row, come to Levi's Stadium.
No offense to New Orleans, Phoenix, or the L.A. Chargers or Rams, but Miami's third-best offense should be a character-defining showdown, giving us some hint of what a postseason, Super Bowl-curious 49ers team might look like.
Yesterday's game recap: The Red and Gold defense smothered the Saints in a snoozy but gritty game. Given their impressive arsenal of offensive weapons, it is perhaps a little concerning that the 49ers didn't blowup the score against the Saints' 24th-in-the-league defense. I keep expecting Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel or Christian McCaffrey to have explosive, 100-plus-yard games, but they've been incrementalists, instead.
While the Niners' defense continues to prove itself as the best in the NFL — they haven't allowed any second-quarter scoring in four-straight games — the offense has yet to assert its will.
To be fair, the offense is a little banged up, too.
Deebo Samuel had been "questionable" going into yesterday's game with a hamstring injury; he had three catches for 43 yards. Christian McCaffrey played through "knee irritation" on Sunday, but finished the game with 32 yards. And recently returned running back back Elijah Mitchell left the field in the third quarter — the rumor is that has a sprained MCL in his left knee.
Jimmy Garoppolo also took a scary-looking hit to the knees on a play in which the Saints were flagged for roughing the passer. Jimmy G shrugged off the hit in the postgame press conference: "I’m alright. A little sore, but nothing serious.
"It's just football, man."
Let's take a moment to appreciate that epic San Francisco defense like the fine wine that it is.
"Something profound and mystical happened Sunday at Levi’s Stadium," wrote the San Francisco Chronicle. "As the Saints closed in on the south end zone for the first of two consecutive 1st-and-goal opportunities in the fourth quarter, the Niners' huddle turned eerie and emotional — an 11-man semicircle of symbiotic resolve." (The Saints actually had five possessions inside 49ers territory, and converted exactly zero times.)
"'You had to be there to feel it,' veteran safety Tashaun Gipson recalled in the aftermath of the 49ers' fourth consecutive victory," the Chronicle continued. "'It was surreal. You could just feel the energy come alive, just by the look in everybody's eyes. Everybody in that huddle was sniffing it, thinking — knowing — we're gonna bow up and make a play.'"
The defense forced two fumbles yesterday — including one at the goal line in what seemed like an inevitable New Orleans' score — and Nick Bosa tallied up another sack for his 11.5 on the season. "The Saints managed just 14 first downs and 260 yards, including 63 rushing on 22 carries (2.9 average)," the Chronicle said.
"The last time the Saints were shut out? Week 17 of 2001 (pre-Drew Brees) by the 49ers."
Let's take a moment to appreciate the yet-to-define-themselves offense like the fermenting grape juice that they are, eager to mature into something refined:
"Apparently [the offensive] unit had trouble clearing customs out of Mexico City," the Chronicle wrote. "Jimmy Garoppolo was under constant pressure, but he completed 26 of 37 passes for 222 yards and had his fourth consecutive no-interception game. The ground game struggled, gaining 96 yards (3.3 average)."
Any bets for next week's game?
"The oddsmakers over at WynnBET list the home-team Niners as a mere 3.5-point favorite, and it’s common for the home squad to have a three-point advantage anyway."
Top Image: Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images