SANTA CLARA – The 49ers upset the Denver Broncos 20-14 Sunday afternoon. Here are the 49ers grades.
NICK MULLENS: A. Showed accuracy, arm strength, anticipation, poise under pressure and confidence with the game on the line. Showed a little bit of everything. Mullens’ quarterback rating was 102.1, and would have been 118.5 had Trent Taylor not tipped a perfect pass to Broncos safety Darian Stewart. This was an extremely impressive win for Mullens, more impressive than any win of Jimmy Garoppolo’s career. Garoppolo could not have played better. The 49ers have two young, promising quarterbacks.
RUNNING BACKS: D-MINUS. Jeff Wilson averaged just 3.8 yards per carry and fumbled for the second game in a row, but the 49ers recovered the fumble. Kyle Juszczyk caught two passes. Then, Kyle Shanahan forgot about him as usual.
WIDE RECEIVERS: D. Dante Pettis made a touchdown catch in the red zone and a 31-yard catch to help put the game away. But, he dropped two passes, too. Alligator-armed the first one and took his eyes off the second one. Still, he was the 49ers best receiver. Marquise Goodwin caught two passes for 20 yards and fumbled twice, although neither fumble counted.
TIGHT ENDS: A-PLUS. Before halftime, George Kittle almost set the NFL’s single-game record for receiving yards by a tight end. But, he didn’t break the record, because he caught no passes in the second half. Still, he’s fantastic. If only Shanahan could find Kittle in the red zone.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: F. The 49ers rushed for just 2.8 yards per carry, and Nick Mullens got sacked three times and hit five times. Rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey gave up one of the sacks to All Pro Von Miller. Laken Tomlinson committed two false starts. This unit is overrated.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: A. This unit is so underrated. It held Broncos starting running back Phillip Lindsay to just 30 rushing yards. DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Ronald Blair, Solomon Thomas, Cassius Marsh and D.J. Jones each hit Broncos quarterback Case Keenum once. Blair even sacked Keenum, and has five sacks the past eight games. Blair is a keeper.
LINEBACKERS: A. The 49ers front-seven hasn’t played this well since Vic Fangio was the 49ers defensive coordinator. Fred Warner and Elijah Lee each recorded four tackles. Lee started in place of injured veteran Malcolm Smith and broke up a pass. Lee is better than Smith and should start at weak-side linebacker the rest of the season.
SAFETIES: A. The 49ers started two rookie backups – D.J. Reed and Marcell Harris. They combined to record a whopping 17 tackles.
CORNERBACKS: C. Didn’t have to cover the Broncos No. 1 wide receiver, Emmanuel Sanders – he tore his Achilles last Wednesday. So, the 49ers cornerbacks had it easy. But, they still gave up a touchdown catch to DaeSean Hamilton. And Richard Sherman gave up a 19-yard catch on fourth and two, an 11-yard catch on fourth and seven, plus he missed a tackle during a 23-yard fourth-quarter run by Royce Freeman. Sherman has declined big time since the Bye week.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Richie James fumbled a punt for the second week in a row, but recovered the punt and the 49ers benched him for Trent Taylor. Robbie Gould was perfect.
COACHES: B-PLUS. Robert Saleh probably kept himself in business with this performance – that’s how well his defense played. And Kyle Shanahan probably put Broncos head coach Vance Joseph out of business. The Broncos were not prepared. The 49ers certainly were. They played hard. Shanahan the Head Coach prepared his team well, and Shanahan the Offensive Coordinator put together a brilliant game plan. But, the Broncos defense adjusted during the second half, and Shanahan’s offense fell apart. Gained just 79 net yards. Let the Broncos come back. Almost gave away the game. Once again, Shanahan didn’t know how to run the ball against a loaded box while leading after halftime. That’s why he lost the Super Bowl. But, he didn’t lose this game, because Saleh and Mullens bailed him out. Still, Shanahan gets credit for having those two and performing well in the first half. This was a big win for him. One more win this season and he’ll be off the hot seat.