How you respond to adversity is truly what defines you.
The 2021 San Francisco 49ers have faced their share of adversity. After finding themselves with a 3-5 record at the halfway point in their season they would win seven of their next nine.
On Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco found themselves trailing 17-0 with 38 seconds remaining in the first half. To that stage in the game the 49ers offense couldn’t move the ball, and their defense couldn’t make a stop.
Then everything changed.
Jimmy Garoppolo, with the help of Brandon Aiyuk, JaMycal Hasty, would lead the 49ers to a field goal as time expired in the first half.
Getting the ball to start the second half, San Francisco’s offense moved right down the field and Deebo Samuel was able to break through the Rams defense for a 16-yard touchdown run to pull the 49ers within seven.
After the defense would force a quick three and out by the Rams offense, San Francisco’s offense would power their way to another score.
Kyle Shanahan called 10 straight runs before going to his bag of tricks. Deebo Samuel took the handoff from Jimmy Garoppolo and appeared to be headed around the right end before pulling up and throwing to Jauan Jennings for a 24-yard touchdown to tie the game at 17.
The 49ers looked like they would take a lead near the middle of the fourth quarter, however Jimmy Garoppolo’s pass to George Kittle was off the mark to his tight end and Jalen Ramsey would make a tremendous play on the ball to come up with an interception.
Los Angeles would then ride the right arm of Matthew Stafford and hands of Cooper Kupp on a 9 play, 92-yard drive to take a 24-17 lead when Stafford found Kupp in the back left corner of the endzone with a beautiful touch pass.
With all hope seemingly lost, the 49ers had one final chance to save their season. Taking over the ball at their own 12 with 1:27 left to play and no timeouts, Jimmy Garoppolo did what we’ve seen him do so many times over the last few years.
Playing with a torn ligament in his right thumb, Garoppolo found enough grip to drive the 49ers offense 88-yards, hitting Jauan Jennings from 14 yards out to tie the game at 24. The touchdown throw to Jennings was set up by a 55-yard connection between Garoppolo and Samuel.
San Francisco opened the overtime period with a 69-yard drive, with Jauan Jennings making two big catches for 33 yards to help get the 49ers to the Rams 17. The 49ers offense would then be forced to settle for a 24-yard field goal from Robbie Gould to take a 27-24 lead.
With the game now put on their shoulders, San Francisco’s defense came up with its biggest stop of the season when rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas would go up to intercept a deep pass down the right sideline from Matthew Stafford.
The victory sends the 49ers into the playoffs. San Francisco will travel to Dallas on Wild Card weekend to revive one of the biggest rivalries in the NFL.
Here are the answers to the five questions asked yesterday.
1. Who will start at quarterback? Jimmy Garoppolo
Never count Jimmy Garoppolo out.
He may not be a member of the 49ers next season, but once again Garoppolo showed resilience.
Playing with a torn ligament in his right thumb, Garoppolo got off to a rough start which included a fumble and interception.
As he’s done so many times before during his time with San Francisco, Garoppolo would respond from the interception by leading the offense down for a field goal on the final possession of the first half.
In the second half Garoppolo would make big throw after big throw to lead the 49ers back to tie the game at 17.
After throwing an interception in the red zone Garoppolo made up for all his prior mistakes by leading the 49ers on an 88-yard drive to tie the game at 24 with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings.
Garoppolo finished the day with 23 completions on 32 attempts for 316 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
2. Can the 49ers stay committed to the run? YES
While the 49ers may not have made it to 40 carries against the Rams, their run game dominated in the second half.
Trailing 17-10 in the third quarter, San Francisco would ride the thunder of Elijah Mitchell and the lightning of Deebo Samuel. The duo combined for 45 yards on eight carries to set up a 24-yard touchdown pass from Samuel to Jauan Jennings to tie the game.
Mitchell powered his way to 85 yards on 21 carries, with a number of physical runs to set the tone for a 49ers offense that ran the ball 31 times for 135 yards.
After Mitchell softened up the Rams a bit, Samuel blew through them for 45 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
3. Who will be in the 49ers secondary? No K’Waun Williams
San Francisco received a boost on Saturday when Jimmie Ward, K’Waun Williams, Ambry Thomas, and Dontae Johnson were activated from the Reserve/Covid-19 list and Emmanuel Moseley was activated from Injured Reserve.
Williams would still be inactive for Sunday, and Johnson would be called upon to fill in as the slot cornerback.
With Johnson struggling to cover Cooper Kupp, the NFL’s leading wide receiver, early on the 49ers were forced to play zone to try and slow down the Rams passing attack throughout the first half as Stafford would complete 15 of 16 pass attempts for 153 yards and two touchdowns.
The second half was a different story.
DeMeco Ryans began to dial up more packages to bring pressure on Matthew Stafford and his defense responded.
With 49ers defenders all around him throughout the second half, Stafford would complete only 6 of 16 pass attempts for 85 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Led by Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, San Francisco’s pass rush would rack up 13 hits and five sacks on Stafford.
Armstead in particular had a big day. Coming into Sunday, Armstead had only 3.5 sacks and eight quarterback hits on the season. Against Los Angeles he would hit Stafford three times and record 2.5 sacks.
4. Can San Francisco shut down the Rams run game? YES
After running the ball only 10 times in the first matchup between the two teams, Sean McVey showed that he wanted to maintain balance and not put the weight of moving the offense on Matthew Stafford.
That didn’t work out too well. The Rams struggled to get the run going all game with Sony Michel and Cam Akers combining for 46 yards on 27 carries.
5. Can the 49ers hold on to the ball? NO
San Francisco was winless this season when Jimmy Garoppolo threw two or more interceptions in a game.
Matthew Stafford and his two interceptions helped to even out the turnovers. Ambry Thomas would seal the game with his interception of an underthrown pass from Stafford in overtime.
49ers 20 Rams 26