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Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

49ers Notebook: Why Deebo Samuel has gone to another level; Getting a kick out of Mitch Wishnowsky’s non-punt; Aiyuk hits 1,000; Nick Bosa’s funny reaction to Metcalf-Warner fight

Dec 10, 2023 at 8:58 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers made it five in a row over the Seattle Seahawks with a 28-16 win over their NFC West rivals at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, and after the game there was plenty to talk about.

We've already discussed the skirmish between 49ers linebacker Fred Warner and Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf, as well as Brock Purdy's big day numbers-wise and the team's newfound frontrunner position for home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. But there's a lot more where that came from, which we'll get into in this jam-packed version of 49ers Notebook.

This time we'll be talking about wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who caught seven passes for 149 yards with one receiving touchdown and one rushing touchdown on Sunday. We'll also find out if Mitch Wishnowsky's fake punt was really a fake punt, plus we have words from Kyle Shanahan on wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk as well as defensive end Nick Bosa's take on the Warner-Metcalf event and more. Without further ado...

Deebo's motivation

There's been a noticeable rise in Deebo Samuel's play in recent weeks, but it isn't because he's discovered a new level of motivation.

Such a discovery did take place, but it wasn't recently. It happened when Samuel's son, Tyshun Raequan Samuel Jr., was born in late 2021.

Samuel has been seen interacting with his son before games, including this video from before Sunday's game against the Seahawks. Having his son on the sidelines serves as a reminder to give the game of football everything he's got.

"It means everything," Samuel said. "Ever since I had him, I can say, like, the level of play and the focus and determination I have for this game has went to another level because it's not only am I playing for me, I'm playing for my family. So whenever I get to see him out there having a good time, it just gives me more energy to go out there and just make plays."

Samuel's son as well as his desire to rebound from what he once called an "awful" performance in 2022 sent him into 2023 motivated to be better than he was in 2021 when he caught 77 passes for 1,405 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 365 yards and eight touchdowns on route to an All-Pro season.

"I feel like he's just more intent with the little things, and then obviously his effort and stuff when he's not getting the ball, carrying out fakes and stuff to open up Christian or the play action pass, he's doing it right," Purdy said Sunday. "Last year was my first year with him, so I didn't really know a whole lot. I thought he balled last year. He'd get the ball in his hands and he still killed it. But he came back this year in great shape, looking good, and then has given everything to this team. So I'm very proud of him, and obviously, when you do get him the ball, he's the same old Deebo. He makes plays."

When it comes to recent weeks, Samuel's improvement has a lot to do with the fact he is healthy after struggling with some early season injuries. Samuel now has six total touchdowns to go with 344 receiving yards and 38 rushing yards over the past three games.

"It's been very good," head coach Kyle Shanahan said of Samuel's play in 2023. "We're not done yet, so there's a lot more football to play. So we'll see at the end of the year. But I thought Deebo came into this season very ready to go. I thought he was looking really good those first couple weeks. Didn't have all the stats to show it, but that was just the way the ball went. But he was really ready to go.

"And then he had a huge setback with his injuries, which took him a while to get back from. When he did, it still took some time to get back into football shape, but starting a few weeks ago, you could see it, and I think he's at the top of his game right now."

Samuel's son will see plenty more of his dad in recent weeks as the 49ers head towards the postseason. Samuel is getting hot for the 49ers at the right time, which means there could be a lot more happy moments for the family in the weeks ahead -- and a lot of headaches for opposing teams.

"Since coming back from injury, I can see the level of play just getting better and better week in and week out," Samuel said. "Just taking a day at a time just to be the best me I can possibly be for the team."

Just wingin' it

The most entertaining moment of Sunday's game may not have counted in the end, but it was more than worth re-living after the fact.

Punter Mitch Wishnowsky gave his teammates, coaches and 49ers fans a moment they'll never forget in the third quarter when he ran out of punt formation for what seemed to be a 30-yard gain and a game-changing first down. The play was called back after offsetting penalties, one of those being a low block on rookie wide receiver Ronnie Bell, the other on a late hit Wishnowsky took after running out of bounds.

The big mystery surrounding the play at the time was whether or not a fake punt was called or if Wishnowsky made the decision to run on his own. After the game, the truth was revealed.

"I winged it," Wishnowsky said.

Wishnowsky told reporters he's never discussed having an option to run on a called punt like he did on Sunday -- he just simply saw a lane open up down the sideline and went for it.

"I saw that sort of the whole rush team had sort of crushed down on the protection and it was open, so I just ran," Wishnowsky said.

The 49ers were up 14-10 at the time of the play and soon got the ball back and scored to make their lead 21-10, so the penalty wound up not hurting the team in the end. 49ers players got a kick (pun intended) out of Wishnowsky's decision to run instead of punt, both during and after the game.

"I loved it," left tackle Trent Williams said. "We didn't even get a heads-up on the sideline. We're over there getting ready to make corrections and it's the Australian streaking down the sideline. I'm like 'Wow.' Unfortunately there were some bullcrap penalties but I love to see the Australian out there opening that stride up."

Tight end George Kittle said everyone was caught off guard by what Wishnowsky decided to do.

"Everyone on the sideline was like, 'I didn't know we had a fake in.' Nope, just Mitch, the Australian guy running. He's a daddy, he can do whatever he wants," Kittle said.

At first, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan joked that he called a fake punt on the play but then admitted he had no clue what Wishnowsky was trying to do.

"I just knew that it would look good right there. So I just called my first fake punt," Shanahan joked. "I don't really know what happened on it. I think he just hesitated a little bit. I haven't got to talk to him personally. I don't know if he thought it was going to get blocked or if he bobbled the snap a hair or he just had a glitch, but it was a good one because when he paused and stuff and saw the edge, it was obviously a clean look and he didn't hesitate for it."

Shanahan said he was informed Wishnowsky hit a speed of 20 miles an hour on his run. Kittle cited Wishnowsky's long, flowing locks as the reason he was so fleet of foot.

"It's the hair. It just flies in the wind, baby," Kittle said.

Maybe the 49ers will decide to call Wishnowsky's number by design someday. If they do, Kittle hopes to see the punter dish out some punishment instead of taking it.

"You've seen him tackle, so I was like, 'He's gonna truckstick somebody,'" Kittle said. "He didn't, but maybe next time. He'll do some tight end drills with us next time."

Two in a row for BA

Samuel isn't the only receiver having a strong season for the 49ers. Brandon Aiyuk went over the 1,000-yard mark for the 49ers on Sunday, marking the second consecutive season he's done so.

Aiyuk had six catches for 126 yards against the Seahawks, which puts him at 56 catches for 1,053 yards and six touchdowns on the season. He's come a long way since the early days of his second season when he fell back in the receiving pecking order while continuing to make the adjustments to the NFL that Shanahan wanted to see. Now Aiyuk is one of the best receivers in the NFL and has become one of the faces of the 49ers as well.

"Just every year he gets so much better just on the football field and also off the football field, which leads to the football field in terms of how mature he is," Shanahan said. "He's one of our leaders in there."

Aiyuk has already surpassed his receiving yardage from last season, when he caught 78 passes for 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns. He'll most likely shatter that yardage before the season is done, and with a strong finish he may set new highs for catches and touchdowns as well.

"With the type of football player he is and how talented he is, you always feel it's a matter of time -- he's going to get his thousand, but he deserves it and he's been great for us this year," Shanahan said.

Warner-Metcalf battle caught Bosa by surprise

Late in Sunday's game when Metcalf and Warner found themselves locked into a bit of a scuffle, defensive end Nick Bosa was well on his way towards having a seat on the bench -- even though he wasn't supposed to.

Bosa was asked about the fight while speaking to reporters Sunday and revealed that not only did have no idea how the fight started but that he should have stayed on defense as a blocker once Warner made the interception that eventually led to the fight.

"I had no clue what was going on on that play," Bosa said with a smile. "I was running off the field, then I ran back on. My helmet wasn't strapped. I'm going to get some guff for that. I'm supposed to be blocking people. We want to score on defense and I did not help them."

Bosa also said he fell short in helping out cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, who got ejected along with Metcalf after he entered the fray in defense of Warner.

"I'm supposed to be on the field to grab him and pull him away... I was too tired," Bosa joked.

But Bosa did have some positive words for Lenoir in another sense, saying he's been impressed with how he's matured since entering the league in 2021.

"I love Demo so much," Bosa said. "I'm so sorry for taking a pick six away from him last year and another interception away from him this year. He's come so far as a person. It's funny because people come into the league and they're kids. Sometimes this new generation of kids -- not that I'm an old guy -- they're different, and it takes them a minute to understand how to be a man and become a man. I think a lot of guys have done that."

Missed opportunity

Highlight plays were the story of Sunday's game for the 49ers, who averaged 9.9 yards per play in their win over the Seahawks. One of the biggest highlights came on the first offensive play of the game when running back Christian McCaffrey dashed 72 yards to the Seahawks' 3-yard line.

Despite McCaffrey's effort on the play, it was backup Jordan Mason who wound up finishing the drive with a touchdown on the next play. McCaffrey spoke after the game about going from thinking he had a 75-yard touchdown on the way to watching Mason score from the sidelines.

"It's a very interesting set of emotions because you're like, oh, I'm going to punch it in," McCaffrey said. "And you see him coming in -- ah, man. I've got to score. If you don't want to get taken out after a long one, you got to score. They're trying to save your breath and make sure you're good to go. So, I get it, but yup."

Shanahan explains timeout snafu

The 49ers had the Seahawks pinned deep in their own territory towards the end of the first half with three timeouts remaining, but they called none of them, allowing the Seahawks to safely run out the clock and get into halftime. The Seahawks started the final possession of the half at their own 9-yard line, then moved backwards after quarterback Drew Lock was called for an illegal forward pass. Even after a 10-second runoff left just 25 seconds on the clock, it seemed like an opportune time to use timeouts to at least try to put the Seahawks in a position to punt out of their own end zone. But it sounds like there was some confusion on the 49ers' end in terms of why the clock was running after the penalty.

"We went back and forth on it and then I ended up not liking my decision," Shanahan said. "It's kind of right in between there. I had enough timeouts. We said no, then we said yes. And then I was confused because when they did take the 10 seconds off and it was after an incompletion, I couldn't figure out why they were running it again.

"None of us knew, so it was just an unusual rule. So I just talked to the ref and he said it is a weird rule, but that's how they do it. Even if it's a dead ball, you take a ten second runoff, they can still start the clock."

Once the 49ers figured out what was going on, they decided to let the clock run.

"Once that started happening, and we were surprised by it, then we just let it go into the half," Shanahan said.

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