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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports


49ers muscle past Falcons for 31-13 win

Dec 19, 2021 at 3:58 PM


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Two teams entered into Levi's Stadium as playoff contenders on Sunday, but only one of them proved to be up to the task as the San Francisco 49ers rolled past the Atlanta Falcons 31-13 to seal their eighth win of the season.

The 49ers overcame some early special teams miscues to put together an efficient offensive and defensive performance. The offense scored on four consecutive possessions over the course of the first three quarters, while the defense forced one turnover via a fumble along with three clutch turnovers on downs.

49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 235 yards and one touchdown on 18-of-23 passing in the game, while Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan finished with 236 yards and one touchdown on 19-of-32 passing.

First Half

The game didn't exactly get off to an auspicious start for the 49ers, although things certainly could have turned out worse given the circumstances. The 49ers gave the Falcons a golden opportunity right off the bat, turning the ball over on the first play of the game when the Falcons knocked the ball out of the hands of JaMycal Hasty for a fumble recovery at the 49ers' 12-yard line. But the 49ers rose to the occasion on defense, forcing a turnover on downs after a four-play goal line stand at the 1.


The 49ers were held to a three-and-out after the turnover on downs, which gave the ball back to the Falcons at midfield after the punt. But the Falcons were only able to turn that field position into a 48-yard field goal from Younghoe Koo, giving them a 3-0 lead at the 7:16 mark in the first quarter.

Another special teams mishap on the ensuing kickoff (a muff from Hasty that bounced off his face mask and out of bounds) gave the 49ers position at their own 9-yard line, but they quickly dug out of that hole on a 25-yard completion from Garoppolo to tight end George Kittle. The 49ers got another 28-yard catch from Kittle later in the drive to move them into the red zone but had to settle for a 30-yard field goal from Robbie Gould to tie the game at 3-3 with just under 90 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

A third-down sack from Arden Key helped force a Falcons punt after six plays on the next possession, then the 49ers got downfield in a hurry on offense due to a 36-yard pass to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and a 17-yard run from running back Jeff Wilson. A completion for nine yards to wide receiver Jennings on a third down play put the 49ers at the Falcons' 15-yard line, then fullback Kyle Juszczyk ran in from six yards out on a 3rd-and-1 to cap an eight-play, 77-yard drive and give the 49ers a 10-3 lead.


Key had a tougher go of things on the next possession, which turned into an eight-play, 65-yard scoring drive that tied the game at 10. Key was called for two third-down penalties during the drive, including a hard-to-swallow roughing the passer call that negated a sack, then Ryan connected on a 20-yard touchdown pass to receiver Russell Gage with four minutes left in the half.


The 49ers answered in short order, putting together a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take a 17-10 lead with just over 30 seconds remaining in the half. A 30-yard completion to Deebo Samuel put the 49ers across midfield on the first play of the drive, then after a third-down pass interference penalty on the Falcons and a 15-yard completion to Jauan Jennings to set up a 1st-and-Goal at the 10, Samuel ran in for his seventh rushing touchdown of the season.


The 49ers dominated the first half in terms of total yardage, outgaining the Falcons 230-93 with 170 of those yards coming in the air. The 49ers had 12 first downs to seven from the Falcons, while the Falcons ran more plays than the 49ers (28-27) and were narrowly behind in time of possession (15:07 to 14:53).

Second Half

The second half started with a bang for the 49ers defense. The Falcons started at the 49ers' 40-yard line after a 33-yard kick return from Avery Williams, but they moved backwards on their first play courtesy of an eight-yard loss on a sack from defensive end Samson Ebukam. Two plays later it was defensive end Nick Bosa's turn, as he notched his 15th sack of the season on a strip sack of Ryan that was recovered by linebacker Fred Warner at the 38-yard line.


It didn't take the 49ers long to capitalize. Garoppolo found Kittle for a 13-yard gain on the second play of the ensuing possession, then he connected with Samuel on a 21-yard gain to the Falcons' 5-yard line. Wilson finished the drive with a 5-yard scoring run to give the 49ers a 24-10 lead.


The Falcons responded with a nine-play, 71-yard drive, although they didn't quite get the result from the drive that they needed. Ryan and Gage hooked up for a 21-yard completion on a 3rd-and-8 early in the drive, then the Falcons moved inside the 10 on a 49-yard pass from Ryan to receiver Olamide Zaccheaus. But the 49ers held the Falcons out of the end zone, forcing them to settle for a 22-yard field goal from Koo to trim the deficit to 24-13.


The 49ers answered with a smash-mouth approach, putting together a 10-play, 75-yard drive that featured runs on six of the first eight plays. But they needed to take to the air to finish the drive, which they did successfully when Garoppolo connected with Jennings for a 4-yard touchdown to take a 31-13 lead.


The teams traded three-and-outs after the touchdown, then the Falcons found some life early in the fourth quarter when Ryan connected with tight end Kyle Pitts for a 49-yard gain. But once again the 49ers' defense stepped up, forcing a turnover on downs when safety Jimmie Ward stopped a toss to Cordarrelle Patterson for no gain.


The Falcons went right back on offense after a three-and-out from the 49ers, but yet again the 49ers' defense stepped up. The Falcons moved inside the 49ers' 10-yard line in six plays but were shut down when it mattered most one more time, giving the ball back to the 49ers with just over five minutes to play. The 49ers took over at their own 2-yard line but were able to run out most of the clock, eating up each of the Falcons' timeouts in the process. The Falcons got the ball back with 28 seconds to play but made no effort to score.

The 49ers outgained the Falcons 397-275 on the day and racked up 23 first downs to Atlanta's 13. Wilson finished with 110 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries, while Kittle led 49ers' pass catchers with six receptions for 93 yards. Gage had eight catches for 91 yards and a touchdown for the Falcons, while the 49ers held the 49ers to 62 rushing yards on 23 carries.

The win gives the now 8-6 49ers a firmer grip on an NFC Wild Card spot, while the Falcons fell to 6-8 with the loss. Next up for the 49ers is a road trip to Nashville for a Thursday night game against the Tennessee Titans (December 23, 8:20 p.m. ET/5:20 p.m. PT; NFL Network). The Titans fell to 9-5 on the season Sunday after a 19-13 road loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.



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