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49ers Notebook: Did Sunday’s win mean more? Two huge passing plays; Defense’s simple secret to second half success

Nov 14, 2022 at 12:10 AM--

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Sunday's 22-16 win over the Los Angeles Chargers wasn't pretty for the San Francisco 49ers—but was it more valuable than a blowout?

That was among the many topics the 49ers discussed with reporters following the win. We've already discussed some of them at length (see also: Reaction to Dre Greenlaw's ejection; Elijah Mitchell Shines in return; Jimmie Ward has a warning for QBs), and now we're going to recap some of the other topics in this version of 49ers Notebook. Let's get right to it...

One to build on

The Chargers came into Sunday night's game shorthanded due to injuries and were a solid underdog that some suspected might get blown out. But that didn't happen, as they led 16-10 at halftime before the 49ers slugged out a 22-16 win.

But while it wasn't a statement type of performance for the 49ers, what happened Sunday could prove to be more important in the long run. Linebacker Fred Warner explained why.

"I feel like, if anything, these are the type of wins that kind of mean more -- the ones that you've got to scrap out," Warner said. "Things might not go your way. As much as you want to blow a team out, it's like, when you're down, how are you going to look each other in the eyes and go out there and compete and just try to find a way? There's going to be even more times like that when we're going to be in an even tougher situation throughout the season. I think this is what builds character within teams. It's going to set us up for success later on in the season.

The 49ers weren't completely clicking in their latest win, but they showed signs of what they could look like if they get to that point. They also showed they can win ugly, which is something they have needed to do in the past when it matters most (see last year's Divisional Round win against the Green Bay Packers).

"That's a sign of a good team -- not having to play perfect football in order to win," wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk said.

Turning points

The 49ers wound up pounding the Chargers on the ground Sunday night, finishing with 41 carries for 157 yards and two touchdowns. But there were two passing plays that sparked the offense before the running game took over and put the team on course for the comeback win.

Both of them came on the first touchdown drive of the game for the 49ers, which took place late in the second quarter. The first one was on a 3rd-and-12 play when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo found tight end George Kittle over the middle for a 21-yard gain. It was Kittle's lone catch of the evening, but it gave the 49ers some energy on offense after a sluggish start.

"That gave us all the momentum I think too," Garoppolo said. "We really weren't doing much before that. We had the one field goal drive before that, but up until that point we didn't do much. George gave us that spark we needed. That's kind of how we are -- it takes one play to spark us and get the momentum going, and we usually start to roll then."

The second play came right after the completion to Kittle. It was a deep pass to wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, which turned into a 33-yard gain that got the 49ers deep into Chargers territory.

"It's kind of a broken play," Garoppolo said. "I got off the first and second read, just started scrambling, and Ray-Ray became a football player, man. It's kind of what we've been talking about in our skill meetings -- just being a football player, making plays like that. Ray's as cool as anybody. Turned it up the sideline and made it look easy. It was a big one. We needed that."

The Chargers responded to that touchdown drive with a field goal right before halftime, but the 49ers were able to carry over some momentum from that drive into what turned out to be a 12-0 shutout in the second half. Garoppolo finished with 240 yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions on 19-of-28 passing, along with a rather unusual piece of history:

Keep it simple

What did defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans do to turn things around in the second half after the 49ers gave up 16 points in the first half? Not a whole lot, according to Warner.

There were some different things added in here and there, but Warner says the defense kept on running the same call over and over again, and it worked.

"We just kept it simple," Warner said. "We literally just ran one call, I feel like, in the entire second half. When we got to third down, we would dial it up with some pressures, but first and second down, we literally just ran the same thing over and over -- just kept it real simple. In the first half, DeMeco wanted to try to mix in some blitzes, some pressures, but honestly, it was just perfect for us to match everything up and play ball in the second half."

What was the call in question? Warner wasn't willing to say.

"I can't give that away. It's a secret," Warner said.

Shanahan on the offense

The 49ers offense has been a source of some fan frustration this season, considering their occasional struggles despite being loaded with talent. There were frustrations Sunday as well, at least early on. Head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked after the game if it would take more time for the offense to figure everything out.

"I think that could have happened today," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "I don't get too caught up in it. We had 400 yards of offense. We were two for five in the red zone. I think we get a lot more points if we could score touchdowns on those plays instead of field goals. I didn't feel like it wasn't that we couldn't move the ball or do stuff like that. I felt like guys made a lot of plays. I don't know how many we averaged a play, but I know we were moving it. We were the better offense today. We've just got to score more touchdowns."

Overall, Shanahan described the offensive performance as "Some good things, but not good enough."

Give him a nudge

Defensive end Nick Bosa has a history of playing on different sides of the defensive line during a game, but sometimes he might need to be given a nudge. Bosa said Sunday he needed to remind defensive line coach Kris Kocurek to move him around, if need be.

"I kind of get a little fixated on one side and I think it would help me to move around a bit, but that's kind of my fault for not doing it," Bosa said. "I just kind of get comfortable. I actually told Kris, force me to move around more because I just kind of get in the game and I want to keep going."

Bosa added, "I think we could do a better job as a D-Line of just putting guys on the right side where we know the strengths are and closing the pocket a little more so he can't escape through the middle."


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