SANTA CLARA — The Niners welcomed an inferior team to Levi’s Stadium Sunday and did what a playoff team should do: They dominated them.
It wasn’t a full 60-minute beat-down, but it was pretty close. San Francisco’s 31-13 win was its best performance since Weeks 10 and 11, which re-established the Niners as a playoff team.
The Week 15 win against the Falcons in all likelihood punched the Niners’ ticket to the postseason with three games to play.
Here were the studs and duds of the Niners’ eighth win of the season:
In a truly dominating performance on the defensive line, Bosa had a sack and a forced fumble, recovered by the 49ers. The stat sheet wasn’t filled, but the Falcons’ offensive line stood no chance against him. Bosa’s constant pressure on Matt Ryan left the Atlanta offense in shambles.
Atlanta couldn’t dedicate enough players to stop Bosa, so they decided to hold by design, hoping the referees wouldn’t flag them.
More often than not, they didn’t. Good work if you can get away with it.
And it was no coincidence that when Bosa exited to be evaluated for a concussion (he was cleared and returned) and the Niners kept him on the bench save for third down in the second half, Atlanta started moving the ball a bit.
Bosa is playing the best football of his young career right now and is a viable Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
It wasn’t simply the catches or the yards – it was the way that Kittle required three, four, sometimes even five Falcons players to bring him down when he had the ball in his hands.
If you want to talk about establishing a tone for the game, Kittle did it on Sunday.
Over his last three games, Kittle has averaged more than 140 yards. He, too, is playing arguably the best football of his career at the exact right time.
The Niners’ left tackle was absolutely rag-dolling whomever Atlanta put in front of him Sunday.
How is this guy eighth in Pro Bowl voting? Williams is the best tackle in the game right now. Get it together, people.
Not only is he the only Niners running back who can get to the outside, but he also reemerged as a receiving threat in this game, catching a 30-yard pass to spark the Niners’ scoring drive to close the first half.
He followed that play with a 10-yard touchdown run from the backfield.
The Niners’ offense is at its best when it is featuring Samuel in a variety of ways. That was on full display Sunday.
Jeff Wilson Jr.
He had his first touchdown of the season and his first 100-yard game of the season. Wilson showed more burst than we’ve seen from him all season on Sunday.
When Mitchell returns, the Niners have a dangerous inside-outside threat. Plus Samuel in the backfield? My goodness, that could be fun.
Credit where it’s due: Garoppolo was strong on Sunday.
The Niners stand a chance if they can get that quarterback moving forward.
We’ll see in the weeks to come how much of that was Garoppolo and how much of the success Sunday was due to the Falcons’ flaws.
Now, I often call Garoppolo “One-Read Jimmy” as a pejorative term, but on Sunday one read was all Garoppolo needed to win the game.
The vast majority of his throws were into wide-open windows — Kyle Shanahan called an exceptional game. They were also on time and in stride. The Niners’ YACs had to eat and Garoppolo fed them.
More importantly, Garoppolo didn’t have a turnover-worthy play all game.
San Francisco is now 7-0 when Garoppolo doesn’t throw an interception. Keep it clean and the Niners win — simple as that.
Not one, but two fumbles on kickoff returns? That’s unacceptable, and if not for Atlanta’s incompetence in this game, it would have been a larger issue for San Francisco.
This Niners team isn’t good enough to get away with bad special teams. They were on Sunday because there’s no team in the NFL as inept as the Falcons.
Was Key bad in this game? No sir. In fact, he was pretty good, registering a sack. In all, he was a key contributor on the defensive line — pardon the pun.
But we can’t overlook the fact that Atlanta tied the game at 10 after Key provided them two free third-down conversions via penalty, the first coming with a neutral zone infraction, the second a roughing the passer call. While the second penalty was a tough call, a flag is a flag and Key didn’t need to hit Matt Ryan, who was going down with Nick Bosa already tackling him.
The Falcons couldn’t do much Sunday, but they could pick on the rookie cornerback, who had a touchdown caught on his head and also had his first career inception snatched from him by Kyle Pitts at the end of the second quarter.
Pitts added a 49-yard catch on Thomas in the fourth quarter.
Thomas was in position on every catch that went against him. He simply has no idea how to play the ball. That’s kind of important.
The Niners were able to get away with Thomas on the field Sunday, but with Josh Norman’s struggles and injuries at the safety, you have to wonder if Thomas is going to be an even larger issue for this San Francisco defense in the weeks to come.