SANTA CLARA — In a make-or-break game for their season, the 49ers did a smart thing Monday night.
They gave the ball to a game-breaker.
Deebo Samuel was the star of the 49ers’ stunning and impressive 31-10 win over the Rams, scoring twice in what was the finest game of this, his finest season in the NFL.
It was the kind of performance that on national television changes the perception about a player.
Say hello to your newest superstar, Niners fans. San Francisco is going to need a whole lot more of him doing special things down the stretch if they’re going to enter the 2021 playoffs through the backdoor.
Samuel had 133 yards and two touchdowns on 10 touches Monday, but that doesn’t even begin to explain his impact on the game.
In a bright-lights, standalone contest where big names were the norm and fireworks were expected, he was the best player on the field, bar none.
As such, the Niners’ offensive game plan came into focus early in Monday’s game: Run the ball, but make sure that it’s in Samuel’s hands a lot.
Monday night, Samuel became the first NFL player listed as a wide receiver to catch at least five passes, run the ball from the backfield at least five times, and score a touchdown in both manners, per Pro Football Reference.
The more advanced numbers tell an even more compelling story.
Samuel had a success rate of 100 percent on his five runs, averaging nearly one expected point (0.88) per play.
His success rate was only 80 percent through the air, but Samuel was adding a jaw-dropping 2.67 points per play to the 49ers’ total.
In all, the advanced stats say Samuel was worth two touchdowns and a field goal against the Rams. That’s a number normally reserved for a quarterback having a great game. It’s flabbergasting for a wide receiver to have that kind of impact.
But those numbers make perfect sense to anyone who watched Monday’s contest.
Samuel isn’t a normal wide receiver.
Just as important as the big plays was the tone that Samuel help set in the game. The 49ers tried a lot of things this season to win games, with most of them failing. Monday night, they turned to violence — the sanctioned kind.
The Rams are a team that’s built in the image of their hometown. They added two stars to their roster — Von Miller and Odell Beckham — in the past week. The Rams want to be a spectacle: big, splashy plays made by big, splashy names.
The Niners decided those big names from Tinseltown needed a swift punch in the mouth.
The receiver’s physicality is what makes him different. He’s not the biggest dude, but he packs a serious punch.
Not only did San Francisco establish its ground game early in Monday’s contest; the 49ers also carried that bullying attitude to the passing game. Samuel — all 6 feet and 215 pounds of him — ran over, through, and past Rams linebackers and secondary defenders all night.
“That kid’s a freak! He’s a freak, he’s the fastest kid alive!” pic.twitter.com/5r2B30yvkC
— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dieter) November 16, 2021
“His rookie year (2019), I can remember we wanted to get the ball into his hands. We didn’t really know how or what we going to do to do that, but we knew we wanted the ball in his hands,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said.
That’s one-of-one, at least to Garoppolo, who said he’s never had a teammate like Samuel, who is second in the NFL in receiving yards after Monday’s game.
“I haven’t seen many of them in the NFL, either,” Garoppolo said. “It’s a unique talent, the durability of the guy, the route-running ability, the mental capacity… it’s really impressive.”