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Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

49ers set tone of dominance with long opening drive against Jaguars, even if it didn’t end the way they wanted

Nov 21, 2021 at 3:42 PM--

As was the case against the Los Angeles Rams last week, the San Francisco 49ers sent a loud, and clear message right off the bat in their 30-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday with a long opening drive that quickly established their dominance and set the tone for what would take place the rest of the game—even if what happened at the end of the drive felt somewhat disappointing.

Whereas last week's opening drive in the 49ers' 31-10 win over the Rams came off a turnover and ended in a touchdown after lasting 18 plays, 93 yards, and eleven minutes and three seconds, this week's opening drive came after the opening kickoff and took up thirteen minutes and five seconds while spanning 20 plays and 87 yards before the 49ers took a 3-0 lead on a 20-yard Robbie Gould field goal. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan surprisingly decided to kick the field goal rather than go for a conversion on a 4th-and-1 from the 2-yard line, which seemed like a surprise at the time, but the 49ers quickly got the ball back after a three-and-out and and kept their momentum going on their second drive, which lasted seven plays and 80 yards before ending in a 25-yard touchdown run by Deebo Samuel that gave them a 10-0 lead.

The 49ers extended their lead soon after that by turning a Jaguars fumble into a touchdown and a 17-0 lead, but after starting the game the way they did, it felt like the 49ers had the Jaguars' number on Sunday well before the fumble took place.

"That's a backbreaker and it's a blow to their morale," cornerback Josh Norman told reporters after the win on Sunday.

Just as it did against the Rams, the long opening drive established the 49ers' offense from a physical perspective while giving the defense some extra rest and putting the opposing defense in danger of getting worn out in the early going.

"It's outstanding," linebacker Fred Warner said. "You've got to stay warm, right? But the offense did an outstanding job starting that game. I just remember looking up and seeing the clock wind down to three, two minutes, and I'm like, 'Wow, they're really out there the whole first quarter.' They did an outstanding job taking the ball down the field."

There's little question the offense was a little let down by not being able to get the ball into the end zone on the opening drive, but all things considered, it was still a winning moment.

"22 plays and not scoring a touchdown, it hurts a little bit," said tight end George Kittle, who made it a point after the game to mention that there were two plays with penalties on the opening drive in addition to the 20 plays that counted among the drive's final stats. "But the fact that we were out there for—I didn't know how long we were out there until I sat on the bench, I looked up, and there was a minute fifty left on the clock, and I was like, 'Alright, well, we scored. It is what it is. We got points on the board.' And all I knew was our defense was very well-rested. When you're an offense, if you sit on the bench for 15 minutes, you come out a little rusty—well, not rusty, but you come out cold. I knew our defense was going to take advantage of it."

Shanahan originally wanted to keep his offense on the field on fourth down and attempt to convert the first down, but he wound up changing his mind. He defended his decision to kick the field goal based on how difficult he thought it would be to make the fourth down conversion in that situation, along with the fact he didn't want the drive to come up empty.

"I thought it was closer to two yards than one," Shanahan said. "They have a pretty good run defense there, and when you go that long of a drive, I thought that would have given them a lot of momentum and got them going. I wanted to go for it bad—it was hard for me not to."

Shanahan added that once he took emotions out of his decision, he felt it was the right thing to reverse course and back away from the play he originally wanted to run.

"I called the play I thought more out of emotion," Shanahan said. "The longer I got to think about it, I just didn't think it was the smartest decision. I wanted to take the points and make sure we got three out of it."

The decision caught quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo off guard, but he had no problem standing by what Shanahan chose to do.

"A little surprised, not going to lie. But that's that his decision," Garoppolo said. "Whatever he decides, we're good with. I think we've shown on fourth down that we come through most of the time. It's a feel thing. Whatever he's feeling I'm good with and we'll make it work."

Even though the opening drive didn't end the way the 49ers would have wanted, it was the first step in everything falling into place in a game the 49ers had to win. The 49ers entered the game at 4-5 after the upset win over the Rams, but they couldn't afford for the game against the two-win Jaguars to become a trap game if they wanted to continue to build momentum towards making a run at the playoffs after a disappointing start to the season. What they did in the early going showed the 49ers had no intention whatsoever of letting that happen.

"I get that's what everyone expects," Shanahan said. "We didn't expect that. I don't feel like we've ever been that way. I think we've been good on the road. I think we've been good going to the East Coast. We knew how much our backs were against the wall before that Rams game, and we also know that meant nothing if we couldn't win today. I get how that looks, but I don't think it was very hard to get the guys' attention and get ready to play. We know how that felt when we were losing games. We know how much better it felt versus the Rams, and we didn't want that to end today."

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