The San Francisco 49ers (4-3) dominated the New England Patriots (2-4) from start to finish on Sunday, moving back into the thick of the NFC Playoff race with a 33-6 road victory.
Remember, the 2013 49ers, fresh off losing a Super Bowl, started the season 1-2, but beat the Rams to get to .500. They then rattled off four straight commanding victories before a bye week.
Well, the 49ers beat the Rams last week to return to .500. A win over the Patriots put them at 4-3. Three more games until the bye to position themselves for a late-season push.
This really has nothing to do with the game, but it’s fun to reminisce.
Here are three thoughts from the victory:
Most complete victory in …
Now, “ever” might be pushing it. But the 49ers haven’t played like this in years.
Even at their best last season, the offense and defense’s dominance were never this simpatico.
The 49ers were better in every facet of the game. They outrushed, outpassed, outpressured and won the time of possession by 16 minutes.
San Francisco was 5 for 9 on third downs. The Patriots’ defense couldn’t get off the field.
When the 49ers would mercifully score, the New England defense was quickly forced right back out there as the Patriots were just 1-for-6 on third downs and had four turnovers.
Just three weeks after getting embarrassed by Brian Flores’ Dolphins, the 49ers took a page out of the Bill Belichick disciple’s book and literally ran the Patriots off the field.
They even forced Belichick to pull a Shanahan by benching/protecting his ineffective quarterback.
There’s always (deserved) worry when Kyle Shanahan leads Belichick at halftime. But Shanahan didn’t let off. He remained dedicated to his game plan and ran the ball down New England’s throat.
In the grand scheme of things, this was a great win over a team that looks worse every week.
This win proved the 49ers are among the best in the NFL, as long as they stick to their strengths. But they still have plenty of tests to either ace or fail.
Stop the tanking talk. These coaches and this roster is way too good to tank.
Offensive line hitting their stride
Remember when the 49ers’ offense, particularly the O-line, was abysmal a few weeks ago? What changed?
Outside of Hroniss Grasu replacing the injured Ben Garland, the only real difference is the play-calling.
By running the ball, Shanahan played to his five blockers’ strengths.
Mike McGlinchey, Daniel Brunskill, Grasu, Laken Tomlinson and Trent Williams have been placed in a much more comfortable element.
Rather than being bull-rushed into oblivion, they dealt the damage with solid run-blocks.
They’ve built confidence, especially on the left side, and are now freeing up large holes for their ball carriers.
The horrendous stretch seems like a distant nightmare as San Francisco humbled the *looks twice to be sure* Patriots.
The 49ers rushed for 197 yards. That’s the most the Patriots have surrendered this season.
And that 197 doesn’t even give the run-game justice. The 49ers added a lot more yards on swing and touch passes. They looked in control from start to finish.
It wasn’t even Raheem Mostert. The brunt of the damage came via fourth string Jeff Wilson Jr.
When Mostert was injured, everyone glossed right over Wilson and jumped to undrafted rookie JaMycal Hasty as the next lead back.
They forgot about Wilson, the other undrafted running back, who has sporadically produced throughout his career. He took advantage of his chance, rushing for a career-high 112 yards and three touchdowns.
Wilson sustained a high-ankle sprain in the third quarter. That’s the same injury that has kept Christian McCaffrey out the last five weeks.
It might be time for Hasty, Tevin Coleman or even practice squad back Austin Walter to step up.
Regardless of who is at running back, Shanahan should feel comfortable based on how well his O-line is playing.
Injury replacements, and a star, shine
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and his half-healthy defense had the Patriots in shambles.
Saleh was without four of his five starting defensive backs, a linebacker and of course Nick Bosa. But their replacements were game-changers.
Safeties Tarvarius Moore and Marcell Harris kept everything in front of them.
Moore had a big pass-defense and made a key tackle to force a 4th-and-1 punt on New England’s opening drive.
Jamar Taylor had two interceptions, two pass deflections and paired with the linebackers to eliminate Julian Edelman from the game.
Azeez Al-Shaair was once again among the 49ers best defenders. He forced a fumble and helped limit the Patriots rush attack.
Despite the solid games from the unsung heroes, linebacker Fred Warner once again stole the show.
Tony Romo gushed all over Warner as he anointed him the best linebacker in the NFL. It was only a matter of time before the rest of the NFL learned what the Bay Area has known for weeks.
Warner shutdown Newton in all facets, with seven tackles, a pass breakup and an interception. He did all this in a season-low 41 snaps.
He also helped in coverage on both Edelman and White, the Patriots best two first down weapons, and held them to two catches for 16 yards. Edelman didn’t even have a target until the third quarter.
The next three weeks will not only determine Warner’s DPOY prospects, but the 49ers’ ability to contend.
Two quarterbacks at the top of their game, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and two elite, versatile running backs, Green Bay’s Aaron Jones and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara, await.
But as long as they have Warner, this defense can compete with the best of the NFL.
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