Just a few hours ago, it seemed the 49ers Super Bowl run might come to an end with a loss to the Patriots.
Now it seems like the 49ers are as good as any team in the NFL. And they proved that by eviscerating the New England Patriots and their head coach, Bill Belichick, 33-6. Handed him his worst home-loss as Patriots head coach. Made him look helpless, like Lions head coach Matt Patricia, his former underling. Maybe without Tom Brady, Belichick is nothing more than an overhyped Matt Patricia. Seemed that way on Sunday.
But enough about the Patriots. They’re history. Here are the grades for the 4-3 49ers.
It seems unfair to nitpick yet another Garoppolo win. He completed 20 of 25 pass attempts, eviscerated his former team on the road and improved his career win-loss record to 24-7. He’s clearly good, clearly a winner. But he also threw two bad interceptions -- the first one he sailed flat footed over George Kittle’s head and hit the free safety between the numbers, and the second one he threw into double coverage. Every time Garoppolo throws the ball past the line of scrimmage, it’s an adventure. He had a wide-open Brandon Aiyuk deep down the right sideline and almost led him out of bounds -- a better pass would have led him upfield into the end zone. Garoppolo doesn’t spin the ball as well as he used to -- lots of his passes flutter and sink. He doesn’t seem to throw a spiral consistently anymore. Can’t blame that on the injured ankle. The 49ers don’t need to spend $27 million per season for a quarterback to throw 10 passes behind the line of scrimmage every game. Garoppolo needs to get his confidence back. Like now.
RUNNING BACKS: A.
The 49ers started Jeff Wilson Jr., and he proved they made the right decision by running 17 times for 112 yards and three touchdowns. Pardon my french, but he ran his ass off. I haven’t seen a 49ers running back run that hard since Frank Gore. Unfortunately for Wilson, he left the game in the second half with what the 49ers fear is a high-ankle sprain. Then JaMycal Hasty came in the game and proved he’s a freaking baller. He ran 9 times for 57 yards. Mini-Marshawn Lynch, indeed. Jerick McKinnon got three carries and proved he doesn’t deserve any more this season -- he lost a yard. He has no juice left in his legs. But the MVP of this group was fullback Kyle Juszczyk. He had one catch for 18 yards and four runs for 18 yards and a touchdown. When the 49ers get Juszczyk involved, they’re hard to beat.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A.
Brandon Aiyuk had a team-high 115 receiving yards, and Deebo Samuel had 72 yards from scrimmage before leaving the game with a hamstring injury. Samuel played more like a running back than a wide receiver -- he caught screens, ran end arounds and even lined up in the backfield. He makes defenses panic whenever he goes in motion and the 49ers will miss him if he’s out for a while. His backup, Kendrick Bourne, was a non-factor. Richie James Jr. left the game with an ankle injury. After the game, Kyle Shanahan said it’s unlikely the 49ers will trade Dante Pettis, who has been benched for the past few games. They need him now.
TIGHT ENDS: B.
George Kittle had a quiet game -- five catches, 55 yards -- and Ross Dwelley got zero targets for the fourth game in a row. So much for National Tight Ends Day.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: A-MINUS.
Mike McGlinchey gave up a sack and had two penalties, and Trent Williams had one penalty. Otherwise, the 49ers offensive line was spotless, and center Hroniss Grasu was an upgrade over Ben Garland.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: A.
The 49ers generated almost zero pressure on Cam Newton, and that’s a good thing. Pressuring him and flushing him out of the pocket would have been the exact wrong strategy. Instead, the 49ers defensive line caged him in the pocket and made him play quarterback, and he failed. Threw three picks and got benched.
Fred Warner shut down Julian Edelman man to man and intercepted Newton once. Warner is the best linebacker in the league and an early candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. He’s by far the best player on a decimated defense that is playing surprisingly well.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A.
They gave up just 147 passing yards despite having next to no pass rush all game. Free safety Tarvarius Moore made any number of plays and big hits and instantly showed he’s an upgrade over Jimmie Ward. Marcell Harris also played well in place of Jaquiski Tartt. And Emmanuel Moseley had one interception and Jamar Taylor had two. No word yet on whether the 49ers plan to retire Taylor’s number this week, but they probably should.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B.
Robbie Gould missed an extra point, but otherwise was flawless. And the 49ers attempted just one punt all game.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh gets the game ball for emasculating an offensive “genius” for the second week in a row. Last week, it was Sean McVay. This week, it was Josh McDaniels. Both geniuses found nothing that would work against a 49ers defense that is missing eight starters from 2019. Robert Saleh is an elite defensive coordinator who should be a head coach right now and will be one soon. The 49ers are lucky to have him. They’re also lucky to have Kyle Shanahan. For the second week in a row, he created an offense that required almost nothing from its quarterback. He has so many different ways to run the ball and throw behind the line of scrimmage. And he clearly takes my advice. Good for him.
QUALITY CONTROL: A-PLUS-PLUS.
I wrote early last week that the 49ers needed to get Kyle Juszczyk involved much more against the Patriots. This gave Shanahan time to read my article and use my ideas in his gameplan -- I didn’t hit him with a bunch of brilliant suggestions on Friday or Saturday. By then, it would have been too late. I also wrote that the 49ers would win if they simply made Cam Newton be a quarterback. And for the first time this season, the 49ers contained a mobile quarterback. I credit myself for making the coaches emphasize the importance of corralling mobile quarterbacks. I also credit myself for Jamar Taylor’s great game, because all week I said he’s no good. Clearly, he read me and proved me wrong. I’m a master motivator, plus I’m humble. Quite the combination.