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49ers Notebook: Deebo is no longer “awful”; Ronnie Bell makes a splash; J.J. Watt praises Niners; Captain Andrew Luck makes Levi’s cameo

Sep 22, 2023 at 12:00 AM--

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Thursday night was a fun one at Levi's Stadium, where the San Francisco 49ers cruised to a 30-12 victory over the visiting New York Giants. It was a night that saw wide receiver Deebo Samuel declare himself as officially out of "awful" mode, running back Christian McCaffrey reach milestones, wide receiver Ronnie Bell create some lasting memories, and -- of all things -- Andrew Luck making a return to an NFL field (in full Civil War costume) to take part in a game of trivia.

Let's recap all that and more in this version of 49ers Notebook.

Not awful anymore

Back in June, Deebo Samuel caught some attention with his honest description of his 2022 performance when he declared it to be "awful." But after catching six passes for 129 yards and one touchdown against the Giants to give him 17 catches for 247 yards with eight rushes for 48 yards and two total touchdowns, Samuel admitted he hasn't been awful in 2023.

"I definitely agree," Samuel said Thursday. "I'm in better shape, being able to sustain drives and be out there as long as I can without having to sub. Yes, sir."

Samuel caught 56 passes for 634 yards and two touchdowns in 2022 along with 42 carries for 232 yards and three touchdowns. Holding out for a new contract before the 2022 season put him off his game and off his fitness, but those things were in the rearview mirror this year. He renewed his focus during the offseason, and his teammates rewarded him by naming him a captain for the first time.

"This offseason, I think the team (saw) all the things that I did to come back in better shape and be able to help this team as much as possible," Samuel said. "It was kind of blessing for them to name me a captain."

McCaffrey gave his assessment of Samuel Thursday night, who like him had his share of yards after contact against an aggressive, blitzing Giants defense Thursday night.

"He's just tough, man. He has all the things you would want in a receiver," McCaffrey said. "He's fast, physical, can catch the ball. But I think it's the stuff that he does when the ball is in his hands and being able to just refuse to go down. That's so fun to watch. Anytime he gets the ball, it's important that you better continue to go try to find a block because you don't know what tackle he's going to break or how many."

Answering the Bell

While Samuel had the biggest night among the 49ers receivers, he wasn't alone in stepping up during the absence of the injured Brandon Aiyuk (shoulder). Also coming through with big plays was rookie Ronnie Bell, who made his first two NFL catches on Thursday night. The first catch was a touchdown, while the second was a 15-yard catch on a tipped ball.

After the game, Bell was elated when he was presented with the ball from his first touchdown catch.

Bell, who also made a stop on special teams, didn't surprise himself with his performance.

"I definitely expected myself to play well," Bell said. "That's the kind of pride and pressure that I put on myself every snap that I'm out there. I expect nothing but excellence from myself."

Aiyuk will likely be back in the lineup next week, but Bell proved Thursday night he can be counted on when his name gets called.

"We've been real happy with Ronnie," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "Thought he was ready for the moment. I thought it was a challenge for him just on a short week getting all the game plan together, especially his first time going through that. I'll see when I see the tape, but I thought he stepped it up and played real well."

McCaffrey keeps racking up the numbers

Another game, another touchdown for Christian McCaffrey, who now has a touchdown in 12 consecutive games as a 49er. That streak ties the club record set by the legendary Jerry Rice in 1987.

McCaffrey talked after the game about being mentioned next to Rice.

"That's a huge honor. Obviously, scoring touchdowns is a team thing," McCaffrey said. "O-Line did a great job blocking, just had to hit the hole. But, yeah, that's a huge honor to be mentioned with somebody like that."

McCaffrey also surpassed 5,000 career rushing yards Thursday night. But he only seemed moderately impressed when that accomplishment was brought to his attention.

"I didn't know that," McCaffrey said. "That's cool. Yeah."

Bosa's assessment

The 49ers flexed some muscle up front on defense Thursday night, totaling two sacks and five quarterback hits from their defensive line. Among those to get a sack was Nick Bosa, who gave a glowing evaluation to the line's performance against the Giants.

"I think tonight all around as a unit was... the best performance we've had together," Bosa said. "Just winning rushes, everybody really fast, sometimes too fast where he could get it out. But the interior, Arik and Javon (Kinlaw) and Javon (Hargrave) just had really good games today."

Bosa added, "I'd have to watch the tape, but the amount of rushes that we won as a unit was I'm sure the pressures are pretty high. We definitely wanted more sacks, but that's just how it goes."

Bosa also revealed Thursday night he's been on an extended social media hiatus, due in part to the contract negotiations that took place during his lengthy holdout. It doesn't sound like he's in a hurry to return to social media on a full-time basis anytime soon.

"I've done a pretty good job of staying off social media this year, especially going into the deal getting done," Bosa said. "It's definitely a healthier way to live your life."

Watt likes what he sees

Among those impressed with the 49ers Thursday night was future Hall of Fame defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who saw them up close over the past two seasons as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Now retired, Watt, who played his final NFL game at Levi's Stadium in Week 17 last season, praised the roster that is in place in San Francisco.

An extremely unexpected cameo

It's safe to say hardly anyone could have imagined former Indianapolis Colts and Stanford product Andrew Luck would be among those to show up at Levi's Stadium Thursday night. But he did, while wearing a Civil War outfit as tribute to the famous parody social media account under his name.

What did Luck come to Levi's Stadium to do? Play trivia, of course, along with former 49er Richard Sherman as part of the postgame Prime Video broadcast.

After shocking the NFL with his retirement in 2019, Luck is now an assistant coach at Palo Alto High School. Based on the reception to Luck's Thursday night appearance across the NFL community, let's hope he decides to make more unexpected cameos in the future.

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