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The San Francisco 49ers enjoyed a side of schadenfreude with their breakfast while watching the rival Seattle Seahawks lose the first NFL game ever played in Germany.
With the Seahawks faltering against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFC West opened wide for the Niners to make their run, starting with Sunday’s performance against the Los Angeles Chargers.
San Francisco emerged victorious by the score of 22-16 at Levi’s Stadium. The win has the 49ers just a half-game behind the Seahawks, and San Francisco has the advantage in division record and head-to-head record.
“I was proud of our team today,” head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after the contest. “I want to play better, blow people out and score every time we go. But those are the type of games [the Chargers] are really good at winning. … We still found a way to win.”
Shanahan’s squad sandwiched a pair of wins around its bye to get back into the race. The team knew how important it was to play good football coming out of its week off.
“I feel that there’s a couple things we’ve done the last few weeks where I feel that’s going the right direction offensively,” Shanahan said following the 49ers’ win against the Los Angeles Rams two weeks ago. “We’ve had to overcome some injuries on defense but to get this win right now, get into the bye, those guys have earned it.
“Hopefully they can get healthier, get some guys back and definitely put ourselves in a much better position to come back and try to make a run at this.”
AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez
To the coach’s first point, the implementation of all the offensive weapons is difficult. How to spread the ball and make sure all of the team’s talented options get touches can be a tricky balance.
Interestingly, Elijah Mitchell led the way with 19 total touches. Christian McCaffrey finished one behind his backfield mate. Deebo Samuel had more rushing attempts (four) than catches (two). Brandon Aiyuk finished as the team’s leading receiver with six catches for 84 yards.
Conversely, all-world tight end George Kittle caught only one pass for 21 yards.
“We have a very unselfish team,” quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “Everybody [fans] is about individual stats with fantasy owners out there. But we have a team, man. Guys don’t care if we get 10 targets or one target. A ‘W’ is a ‘W.'”
The amount of talent just described shows how deep the 49ers offense is. More importantly, the type of talent featured brings a multifaceted approach to every contest. San Francisco can use the same personnel each game yet deploy differently against every opponent.
McCaffrey is just as effective as a receiver. Samuel has showed how dangerous he can be working out of the backfield. Kittle is a weapon, whether he’s lining up inline or out wide. The possibilities with this entire group are endless, but expansive usage of the complete playbook takes time after absorbing a talent like McCaffrey shortly before the trade deadline. Garoppolo simply needs to act as a facilitator.
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As Shanahan hoped, the 49ers are trending in the right direction offensively. During the team’s two-game winning streak, San Francisco posted 368 and 387 offensive yards, respectively. The Rams and Chargers may not be playing as well as expected but both feature legitimate difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball. The Niners are nearly at full strength and look the part.
The returns of Mitchell (knee), Samuel (hamstring), fellow wide receiver Jauan Jennings (hamstring) and fullback Kyle Juszczyk (finger) from injuries provided a significant boost. In fact, the first three contributed 180 yards from scrimmage Sunday.
“It’s just so crazy how much firepower we have in this offense now with adding [McCaffrey] to the team along with all the other guys that we’ve got,” Samuel said Friday. “It’s gonna get crazy. It’s gonna be hard to cover everybody out there, and it should be real fun.”
As such, a 13-3 second-quarter deficit with a very talented quarterback in Justin Herbert on the opposite sideline didn’t feel like an insurmountable task. San Francisco scored 12 unanswered second-half points to claim the victory.
“I love seeing that,” Shanahan mentioned. “I know our numbers were bad on that and it’s cool. Didn’t feel like huge comeback win. … I almost treated it like 0-0 game all the way to the end, and it kind of was, with a one-score game all game.”
The Niners didn’t suffer any in-game injuries Sunday, per KNBR’s Jake Hutchinson. Defensive reinforcements should be on their way as well.
Lineman Arik Armstead (foot, ankle) and edge-rusher Samson Ebukam (quadriceps) could return at any point in the next few weeks to provide some juice up front for an already elite defense.
San Francisco features difference-makers at all three levels. Nick Bosa is a game-wrecker. The defensive end registered four quarterback hits, three tackles for loss and a sack against the Chargers’ makeshift offensive line. Fred Warner is the game’s best middle linebacker. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the 49ers defense has allowed the fewest attempts, completions and yardage to the middle third of the field since drafting Warner in 2018. At safety, Talanoa Hufanga has blossomed in his second season. He’s a heat-seeking missile as a tackler yet presents outstanding ball skills, including the game-ending interception Sunday.
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Complementary football will go a long way for the 49ers since they don’t feature a top-end starter behind center. With all the weapons now found on offense paired with the game’s No. 1 defense, San Francisco should make a strong push through the rest of the regular season with the capabilities to surpass the Seahawks and claim the NFC West title.
Much like San Francisco, Seattle is playing sound football. But the Seahawks aren’t quite as versatile on offense, and their defense isn’t anywhere near the same level.
Besides, the 49ers have a favorable schedule. Beyond playing in Seattle during Thursday Night Football on Dec. 15, San Francisco’s remaining lineup includes the scatterbrained Arizona Cardinals (twice), a New Orleans Saints team that’s lost four of its last five, the NFC East bottom-dwelling Washington Commanders and a Las Vegas Raiders squad that might crawl into a black hole and never reemerge after losing to the Indianapolis Colts six days after the franchise named Jeff Saturday its interim head coach.
Early December contests against the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will serve as litmus tests for how good the 49ers really are. However, both games will be played in the Bay Area.
But first, the 49ers play the Cardinals in Mexico City for Week 11’s Monday Night Football. A win would put the Niners in first place in the division, and they might not look back after that.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.