Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

5 improbable heroes from the 49ers thrilling victory over the Rams

Marc Adams
Jan 11, 2022 at 10:24 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers had the usual heroes step on Sunday against the Rams. The game would not have been won, and the playoffs would not have been clinched, without the great contributions of several great players like Deebo Samuel, Jimmy Garoppolo, Arik Armstead, Elijah Mitchell and Brandon Aiyuk. Samuel and Aiyuk were brilliant, of course. Mitchell and Garoppolo both showed a lot of toughness, grit and poise when the 49ers really needed to keep drives going. And Armstead was dominant. It was certainly his best game the last two seasons.

But there were a handful of players who helped the 49ers get into the postseason, that we probably wouldn't have expected to come up big, like they did. Sure, you had Emmanuel Moseley with an interception in his first game back from injury. And yes, you had Kyle Juszczyk step in to be the holder for Robbie Gould, after Mitch Wishnowsky (the regular holder on kicks) went down with a concussion. And there were others who did things to help seal the victory. But there were five who made contributions that I didn't expect them to make.

Here are the five improbable heroes:

Tom Compton

I owe Tom Compton an apology. I've been hard on him, and you really can't blame me. Until midseason, he had mostly been terrible during his stints in San Francisco. But since Mike McGlinchey went down, Compton has been really good, especially in the run game.

But the main reason I put him on this list is because of something he did Sunday that may have saved the 49ers.

With the team trailing the Rams early, and looking like it was about to become the victim of a blowout, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo fumbled the football. George Kittle was there to jump on it, but the ball squirted out from his grasp. Fortunately Tom Compton was there to wrestle it away from a Rams' defender.

Had Compton not recovered that ball, the Rams would have had the ball with excellent field position, and things would have been even uglier. That was a huge play. Tom Compton was a hero.

Ambry Thomas

Ambry Thomas has been getting better and better each week. He has been close to making some big plays, including some interceptions, but has just missed out. On Sunday, however, he finally made the big play, coming up with the game-sealing interception of Matthew Stafford. Yes, it looked like Odell Beckham beat Thomas deep, and had Stafford been given ample time to step into his throw, things may have turned out differently. But Stafford underthrew the ball, and Thomas made a great play.

That's a huge moment for a rookie who has only played a handful of games.

Jauan Jennings

I am becoming a big Jauan Jennings fan. The second half of the season has been eye-opening. In this game, Jennings had six catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns. That's a big contribution. But it's when the plays are coming that has been so impressive.

Jennings finished the season with 24 receptions for 282 yards and five touchdowns. Ten of his catches came on third down. And 20 of his catches resulted in either a touchdown or a first down. Read that again: 20 of Jennings' 24 receptions were for a touchdown or a first down. Stunning!

On Sunday, it was no different. Jennings continues to make big play after big play, and he's becoming who we had hoped Jalen Hurd would become. I'm not speaking schematically, or how they are used, but rather a number three receiver who is a red-zone threat, and one who moves the chains.

Colton McKivitz

I must confess that when I found out Trent Williams wasn't playing, I was not very hopeful. And when I found out Colton McKivitz was starting instead of Jaylon Moore, I was even less hopeful. Until Sunday, McKivitz had not even played a snap all season. And now he was supposed to hold up against a strong Ram's defensive front? But he exceeded my expectations. And though he gave up a late game sack, one that I thought may cost the 49ers the ballgame, he played pretty well throughout the game. So, hats off to the West Virginia kid. He made his only playing time this season count.

Robbie Gould

I've been hard on Robbie Gould this season. He hasn't been bad, but he hasn't been automatic like we have come to expect from him. But on Sunday—wow, he really stepped up! Not only did he hit both of his field-goal attempts (one to take the lead in overtime), and all three of his PATs, he also had to be the punter for much of the game after Mitch Wishnowsky went down with a concussion. And he actually fared well, punting twice for a 45.0 yard average.

Great job by Gould, not only for hitting the eventual game-winner, but also for covering for one of his teammates.

There are many heroes from Sunday's victory. Some are obvious. Some are unsung. Some were unexpected. And there are more improbable heroes that I didn't mention. Who did I miss?
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