In the game of the year and an instant classic, the Niners win a shootout against the Saints at their place in front of a frenzied and raucous crowd, 48-46. The Saints scored on their first four drives while the Niners scored on three of their first four. After it was over, the Niners had scored on all but three drives and the Saints on all but four drives. It was a game where the saying “whoever has the ball last, wins” was reality. The Saints scored with 53 seconds left in the game to move ahead 46-45 and failed on a two point conversion. In the days of Montana and Young, Niner fans had the “no problem” confidence that they would drive in the last minute and pull out a victory. This was a signature moment for both Garoppolo and Shanahan as they did mount the last minute victorious drive and give Niner fans confidence that the glory days may be here once again.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s stat lines were great (26/35 passing, 349 yards, 4 TD’s and 1 INT) for passing rating of 131.7. Drew Brees’ stats were equally impressive but he was playing at home and played his usual HOF game. This was the fourth consecutive game were Garoppolo has completed at least 70% of his passes with a passer rating of over 110. If he hits those marks this week against the Falcons, he will tie both Russell Wilson (2015) and Patrick Mahomes (2018) as the only QB’s in NFL history who have achieved those statistics in a single season. What was so remarkable was that Jimmy G. kept his composure under a very loud and hostile crowd and played with utmost confidence.
Kyle Shanahaan’s play calling was at its best. He called so many plays where the formation was the same but the plays were different depending on how the Saints defense lined up. He also employed the same plays but reversed left/right. A good example was the key play of the game, fourth and two with 39 seconds left in the game, where Superman George Kittle caught the ball going toward the left sideline, then pushed the defender down and sprinted down field with three other defenders trying to drag him down (one by his face mask) for another 10 yards. That same exact play was run on the right side earlier in the game resulting in another key first down keeping that drive alive. Additionally, on that last Kittle play, the crowd was so loud that Garoppolo couldn’t distinguish if Shanahan had called play 14 or 15 on his wristband. As they broke the huddle and lined up, Shanahan called timeout as he called play 15 and they lined up in play 14 formation. Shanahan later said that there is a big difference between the two plays.
I give the game ball to both Garoppolo and Shanahan this week for their play and play calling. Having said that, there were so many other players who played so well, they were equally deserving. George Kittle had the catch and run of the year. He won the “Angry Run of the Week” on the NFL Network’s Good Morning Football show. The trio of WR’s (E-Man Sanders, Deebo Samuel, and Kendrick Bourne) had great games with E-Man catching a TD while also throwing a TD pass and Bourne catching 2 TD’s and Deebo catching some clutch third down plays. They have separated themselves and will play most of the snaps down the stretch. Raheem Mostert had another great game as well as Kyle Juszczyk. The “next man up” award this week goes to Ben Garland who came in at the Center position when Weston Richburg went down with a season ending knee injury.
What makes this Niner team so strong is that they keep finding different ways to win. This week, the Defense was offensive but luckily, so was the Offense.
While the Niners are on top with an 11-2 record, their injuries keep piling up and while the “next man up” philosophy has been working so far, they simply can’t afford any more injuries down the stretch.
- CB Richard Sherman went out with a hamstring and be out a few weeks.
- SS Jaquiski Tartt broke his ribs vs the Ravens and is week-to-week.
- DE Dee Ford has had a hamstring condition for over a month that he re-aggravated vs the Ravens. He will be out until the play-offs.
- DT Julian Taylor suffered ligament damage to his elbow and may be ready to play vs the Rams.
- NT D.J. Jones suffered a significant season ending ankle injury. This is a huge blow as he was simply outstanding against both the run and pass.
- LB Kwon Alexander tore his pectoral and was placed on season ending IR on Nov 5. His loss was really felt in the Ravens loss and in the poor defensive performance vs the Saints.
- C Weston Richburg was playing at a very high level this year calling the line plays until he suffered a season ending knee injury vs the Saints.
- DL Ronald Blair was having his best season as a rotational edge rusher until he suffered a season ending injury vs the Seahawks.
- TE Garrett Celek was placed on IR with a back injury.
- WR Marquise Goodwin was placed on IR with knee and ankle issues.
- DE Damontre Moore was placed on IR with a broken arm.
- WR Trent Taylor was placed on IR with a foot surgery.
- WR Jalen Hurd was placed on IR with a back injury.
- RB Jerrick McKinnon missed his second consecutive year with a torn ACL.
- CB Jason Verrett was placed on IR with knee issues.
- OT Shon Coleman was placed on IR with a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle.
- CB Tim Harris was placed on IR with a groin injury.
The final three games of the regular season are against teams that are playing their best football. The Falcons at home, the Rams at home and the Seahawks in Seattle which will most likely determine the Western Divisional winner. Shanahan continues to rightfully say weekly, they haven’t won anything yet as their divisional rivals continue to play well and win. They just completed the toughest three game schedule in NFL history as they beat the Packers (10-2), lost to the Ravens (10-2) and beat the Saints (10-2). Bring on the Falcons, Rams and Seahawks !!!