Very little has come easy for San Francisco this season.
The difference on Sunday night for the 49ers (5-4) is they were able to overcome their early mistakes and pull out a 22-16 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers (5-4). This is something they were not able to do during losses in the first half of the season.
Sunday night’s win showed the character of this team.
Each San Francisco win in the first half of the season came by at least 15 points, and none were particularly close in the fourth quarter.
The 49ers defense has been among the best in the league for most of this year. However, that wasn’t the case at the start of the game.
Justin Herbert was masterful on the Chargers opening possession. The third-year quarterback connected on all five of his pass attempts including a touchdown strike from 32-yards out to DeAndre Carter.
On the touchdown play 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga was caught out of position and Carter was left wide open on a deep corner route.
After the strong start, things went downhill for Herbert.
Playing without his top two receivers, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, Herbert was unable to find his rhythm for the rest of the night. Over the Chargers final eleven possessions, the third-year quarterback was able to must only 16 completions on 30 attempts for 125 yards and one interception.
As has been the case so many times this season, the only reason this game was close in the fourth quarter was mistakes by the offense and special teams.
The 49ers opened their second offensive possession with a 19-yard strike over the middle from Jimmy Garoppolo to Brandon Aiyuk. The positive play ended in disaster when Aiyuk lost control of the ball following a hit from Chargers safety Derwin James. Los Angeles recovered the fumble leading to a Chargers field goal to extend the lead to 10-3.
After the teams traded possessions in the second quarter, it was the 49ers special teams turn to make a mistake.
Punting from their own 33, the 49ers allowed Chargers linebacker Nick Neimann to break through and get a hand on Mitch Wishnowsky’s punt causing it to travel only 17 yards.
Gifted terrific field position, Los Angeles took advantage. The Chargers drove deep into 49ers territory before the San Francisco defense stepped up to force another field goal.
The second half started out with the 49ers offense once again being unable to get into the endzone due to a mistake.
Jimmy Garoppolo started the drive off with a 21-yard completion to Christian McCaffrey. From there the 49ers offense pounded the ball, picking up big chunks of yardage on the ground.
Facing third and goal at the Chargers eight, Jimmy Garoppolo fired a pass to his left to Brandon Aiyuk. The slant pass hit Aiyuk on the back shoulder, but the receiver was unable to hold on to the ball, forcing the 49ers to settle for a field goal.
The 49ers offense finally found itself in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 16-13, Jimmy Garoppolo engineered a 14-play, 77-yard touchdown drive. San Francisco faced three third down situations on the drive and Garoppolo converted on each of them. The first two saw Garoppolo connect with Jauan Jennings to move the sticks.
Then facing third and eight at the Chargers 26, Garoppolo and Brandon Aiyuk made the biggest play of the night. Los Angeles sent a blitz, but Garoppolo saw it early and turned the ball loose quickly to Aiyuk over the middle. The receiver came through, making the grab and fighting through Chargers defenders for a 24-yard gain.
On the next play, Christian McCaffrey took the ball into the endzone from two yards out to give the 49ers their first lead of the game.
The game was still in the balance late when Talanoa Hufanga made a diving interception of a Herbert pass. The interception was Hufanga’s fourth of the season and sealed the victory for San Francisco.