Ravaged by injury and with key players still on the reserve/COVID-19 list and now forced to figure out where they're supposed to practice and play for the next three weeks, the San Francisco 49ers could've been counted out going into Sunday's road game against the Los Angeles Rams.
But these Niners are too proud and too well coached to curl up and call it a day, especially against an NFC West Division rival they've owned in the past few meetings. Led by coordinator Robert Saleh's hard-nosed defense, the 49ers pulled the surprise, knocking off the Rams 23-20 on a 42-yard field goal from Robbie Gould as time expired.
The victory was San Francisco's fourth straight against the Rams and, as wild as it sounds given what the 49ers have been through, keeps them in the NFC playoff mix. At 5-6, the 49ers would be on the outside looking in if the postseason started today, but they're only a game out of the final wild-card spot after the Arizona Cardinals (6-5) lost to the New England Patriots earlier on Sunday. The good news for the 49ers is that they still have five games left to push their way closer to the playoff picture.
Sure, that still seems like a long shot, especially for a team missing star players such as tight end George Kittle, defensive ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. But with the likes of cornerback Richard Sherman, receiver Deebo Samuel and running back Raheem Mostert returning Sunday, the Niners showed that even at partial strength, they're still a tough out.
Describe the game in two words: Deebo's day. Samuel's return laid bare just how important he is to everything the 49ers do. His ability to make plays in the run game as a de facto back and in the pass game as a wideout makes him the most important non-Kittle offensive player on the roster. He finished with 11 catches for 133 yards, many of those coming after the catch, as the Rams wanted no part of tackling him.
QB breakdown: Niners quarterback Nick Mullens had Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald in his face for much of the day, struggling to find any rhythm. Still, Mullens delivered when it mattered most, engineering a pair of late drives for the tying and winning field goals.
Mullens finished 24-of-35 for 253 yards with no touchdowns and an interception for a passer rating of 77.4. By no means was it one of Mullens' better performances, but it was enough.
Troubling trend: The 49ers had three turnovers in the game, two of which quickly nullified takeovers of their own and one that resulted directly in a Rams touchdown. It's the fifth straight game in which the Niners had two or more giveaways, their longest streak since 2008, when they had eight straight games with multiple turnovers.