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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmie Ward’s first interceptions in five years set tone for 49ers in big win

Nov 16, 2021 at 4:42 AM--

Monday night's 31-10 win for the San Francisco 49ers over the Los Angeles Rams was a good example of what's referred to as "complementary football", meaning that players in each phase of the game make plays that help set up the other players to more effectively do their job.

The offense played a significant part in helping the 49ers reach that status Monday night, holding onto the ball for almost 40 minutes of game time while converting 8-of-14 on third downs with zero turnovers. But it was the defense that set the tone for the offense early, thanks in large part to two interceptions from safety Jimmie Ward.

The first interception came on the first possession of the game for the Rams when quarterback Matthew Stafford launched a deep pass intended for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. that Ward picked off to give the 49ers the ball at their own 8-yard line. The offense responded by putting together an 18-play, 93-yard drive that took over eleven minutes off the clock and finished with a touchdown to give the 49ers a 7-0 lead.

Ward's next interception came just a few plays after that when he caught a pass that deflected off the hands of tight end Tyler Higbee. Ward returned the interception 27 yards for a touchdown to give the 49ers a 14-0 lead, helping to establish momentum they never gave up throughout the game.

"That was huge," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said of Ward's interceptions. "We knew going into that game that we wanted to make it as physical of a game as possible. We felt if we did that, it would come down to the turnover battle. Them coming up with two was huge and us being able to protect it, I think was the difference in the game."

For Ward, the interceptions were a long time coming. They were his first interceptions since 2016 and just the third and fourth of the season for the 49ers defense.

"Oh it was great. Man I feel great," Ward said Monday night. "I don't even have words to say about it. I guess that I can enjoy it for like 24 hours and then it's onto next week."

Still, amid the excitement during his first interception, breaking his drought wasn't the first thing on Ward's mind when he made the play.

"I was just thinking about how Odell came and hit me," Ward said. "I have to pay him back next time that I see him. I have been waiting a long time to hit him so hopefully I can catch him."

Ward sometimes seems like an unnoticed or unappreciated part of the 49ers' defense from outside observers, but his teammates certainly value what he brings to the game. Linebacker Fred Warner raved about Ward Monday night, saying he predicted the veteran defensive bak would follow up his first interception with an encore.

"Man, he had a heck of a game," Warner said. "Just this whole season, he's been killing it. Him as an eraser back there, just owning the middle of the field. He's the best man coverage defender, or DB, safety, it doesn't matter. He's one of the best I've seen. One of the best tacklers I've been around. I was like, 'Hey man, when's the last time you've had a pick?' He's like, 'Man, it's been a long time.' And so he got that first one. I said, 'Hey, you're going to get a second one.' He's like, 'Alright.' And he got that second one, man. I'm so happy for him. That was fun to watch. It's fun to play with a guy like that."

Ward even got some recognition from a very notable former teammate who was watching the game from home.

While Ward's interceptions set the tone for the win over the Rams, the 49ers will need to hope the win sets the tone for what happens the rest of the way. The inconsistencies they showed over their 3-5 start were nowhere to be found Monday night, which is something they'll be hoping to continue in the weeks ahead. Ward will be one of the team leaders in paving the way for that, starting with helping to refocus the team this week.

"We have to work," Ward said. "We have to come tomorrow or Tuesday or whenever we have meetings and practice and we have to feed off of this momentum and keep working. That is how we just won. We worked throughout the week and ended up coming away with the win."

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