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49ers Notebook: The turning point vs. Rams; Aaron Donald MIA; McCaffrey on jawing with former Niner; Deebo’s very unexpected fan encounter

Sep 17, 2023 at 8:27 PM--

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Another regular season game, another win for the 49ers, who now have a streak of 12 consecutive regular season wins in a row after knocking off the Rams 30-23 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Sunday. The win was also the ninth straight regular season win over the Rams, who put up a fight for much of the game before the 49ers took over late.

Things weren't going all that well in the first half for the 49ers, who were trailing 17-10 in the second quarter before a couple of key decisions from head coach Kyle Shanahan helped turn the tide. We're going to talk about those moments in this edition of 49ers Notebook, as well as a run-in that Christian McCaffrey had with a former 49er, a weird encounter between Deebo Samuel and a fan, and more.

Turning point(s)

Despite being a heavy underdog, the Rams were having a good amount of success against the 49ers in the first half on route to building a 17-10 lead. But what happened during the final two minutes of the second quarter prevented them from carrying momentum into halftime.

Right before the Rams scored a touchdown to go up 17-10, the 49ers called a timeout with 1:50 left on the clock. The Rams scored on the next play, giving the 49ers 1:45 to work with before halftime. The 49ers drove the length of the field in 1:44, then with one second left in the half, they decided to go for a touchdown instead of a field goal. The decision was successful, as quarterback Brock Purdy ran a sneak into the end zone to tie the game at 17 as time expired.

Shanahan talked after the game about the entire sequence, singling it out as a pivotal time in the game considering what had happened earlier in the half along with the fact the Rams were going to get the ball to start the second half.

"That was huge. We hadn't stopped them yet," Shanahan said. "They'd been controlling well. We had that one miss when we got right in there on the fringe and missed the one to BA (wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk), and then I think we got sacked on the next one where we had a chance at Deebo, then they controlled it and scored.

"And especially with them getting the ball in the third quarter, I thought it was huge. We got a couple of big plays. At first you're hoping to get a field goal, but we got a bunch of big plays and got down there and to be able to finish it with one second with a sneak was big for us going in with them starting."

What went into the decision to go for the touchdown instead of the field goal? The need to score and the belief in doing so, according to Shanahan.

"We were so close (to the end zone)," Shanahan said. "Also, they were scoring a lot of points. It looked like we needed points at the time. We also believed we could do it."

The touchdown wound up being the first points in a 20-6 run to close out the game for the 49ers.

Faithful assistant

49ers fans as expected took over SoFi Stadium on Sunday in decisive fashion. One of them might have gotten a bit too close to the action... even if he was just trying to help.

Midway through the fourth quarter, television cameras caught a fan trying to separate Samuel and Rams cornerback Derion Kendrick from having a scuffle. Or maybe the fan was ready to jump in on Samuel's side if things escalated.

Players don't typically like to see fans interfere in game action, but Samuel gave this fan a thumbs-up for getting involved.

"(Kendrick) just ran up and kind of like headbutted me out of nowhere and I was like, what's going on?" Samuel said after the game. "But that was kind of cool to see a fan get into it and trying to protect the team as well."

Deebo on his TD

Samuel scored his first touchdown of the season Sunday, and it was yet another example of Deebo doing Deebo things as he turned a short toss into an 11-yard touchdown by making the Rams miss. Deebo described the play in unique fashion.

"(It was) kind of like a little quick bubble and we knew I was going to be one on one with the corner and he shot his guns, but luckily he shot at my foot and I was able to break the tackle and get in the end zone," Samuel said. "You can just see all the guys and how determined they were to give me the end zone as well by all the blocking."

The play counted as a run, but whether it was a run or pass, it got the results the 49ers wanted.

"I've gotten used to it with him," Shanahan said. "It was the look we wanted, which usually means you're going to get about six yards. And it was kind of a first and ten run, basically, even though it's a quick pass. But then Debo has a knack for getting a lot more than most people after that."

Small talk?

One of the highlights of the game for the 49ers was a 51-yard run from Christian McCaffrey at the end of the first quarter, which set up a field goal to give the 49ers a 10-3 lead. McCaffrey strong-armed former 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon to the ground at the end of the play, then got up and gave Witherspoon an earful.

What did McCaffrey and Witherspoon say to each other during that exchange? McCaffrey was asked about it after the game, but he decided to dodge the question in his own way.

"What's up man, good to see you," McCaffrey joked. "Just casual conversations"

Witherspoon was with the 49ers from 2017 to 2020 after being selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He spent time with the Seahawks and Steelers over the past two seasons before signing with the Rams in June.

McCaffrey on the O-Line

McCaffrey ran for 116 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries Sunday, one week after rushing for 152 yards and one touchdown in the season-opening win over the Steelers. Helping him along the way has been the offensive line, whom McCaffrey spoke about Sunday.

"I just see a lot of guys who understand how to play together," McCaffrey said. "They understand how to block certain fronts. They communicate really well. And then they play hard. I think that's the most important thing is just playing with great intent, trying to score on every play. They understand they're the focal point of the offense."

McCaffrey had some heavy praise for left guard Aaron Banks in particular, who has done his part in clearing the road on the left side with tackle Trent Williams.

"(Banks is) unbelievable," McCaffrey said. "And he's only getting better two, which is exciting. I think having a guy like Trent Williams in that room, he's able to give them so much wisdom and allow them to play fast, but Banks is a special player. All those guys are."

Where was Aaron?

Coming into Sunday, Rams all-everything defensive tackle Aaron Donald had 55 tackles and 12.5 sacks in his career against the 49ers in 17 meetings throughout his career. Now that his 18th meeting is in the books, Donald still has 55 tackles and 12.5 sacks in his career against the 49ers.

Sunday's game marked the first time Donald had zero tackles in a game against the 49ers. The box score had Donald for one quarterback hit, with zeroes elsewhere.

Needless to say, the 49ers were focusing on him.

"We just commit everything to him because if you don't, he wrecks everything," Shanahan said. "And I didn't realize it was like that in the stat sheet, but definitely didn't feel like that. I thought defeated a number of blocks today. We were just able to get rid of it before he got there and able to run away from him."

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