49ers pile it on vs. Falcons, win crucial playoff-determining game

Jauan Jennings #15 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Jauan Jennings #15 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

13. 44. 31. 42. Final

The 49ers knew their Week 15 game versus the Falcons could have serious playoff implications, so the home victory at Levi’s Stadium was surely helpful.

Statistically speaking, and on paper, about the only way the San Francisco 49ers would have lost their Week 15 home matchup against the Atlanta Falcons was if the Niners found ways to beat themselves.

Early on, it looked as if that would be a factor.

Running back JaMycal Hasty’s fumbled kickoff-return attempt on the opening kick, which was recovered by Atlanta, was an ominous sign. Yet San Francisco held on a valiant goal-line stand, surrendering zero points. And even though the 49ers were on the wrong side of some questionable calls and non-calls by the officials, a 31-13 victory over the Falcons helps ensure head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad will retain a crucial playoff spot.

That goal-line stand, along with others that resulted in turnovers on downs, helped Shanahan and Co., too.

It might not have seemed that way early. But a crucial turning point occurred on Atlanta’s opening possession of the second half with the Niners leading 17-10. EDGE Nick Bosa‘s 15th sack of the season jarred the ball loose from quarterback Matt Ryan, leading to linebacker Fred Warner‘s recovery:

San Francisco turned that turnover into seven points.

Bosa, who endured a brief scare when he was evaluated for a concussion, led a 49ers defense that sacked Ryan three times and hit him an additional 10 times, although fellow EDGE Arden Key getting flagged for roughing the passer was a call most fans, perhaps even Atlanta ones, would probably disagree with.

49ers best players again play at their best vs. Falcons

It shouldn’t be a surprise the Niners are winning games when their best players are making big impacts during the game.

Bosa was a wrecking-ball force, while Warner led the defense with nine tackles and had that fumble recovery. About the only liability for San Francisco’s defense was rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas, who was making his second start of his career and was regularly abused by Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage.

Offensively, who else would you expect to have big games? Tight end George Kittle with his six catches for 93 yards? Or how about wide receiver Deebo Samuel and his 61 yards through the air and 29 yards on the ground, including this 10-yard rushing score, his seventh on the ground this season?


Even No. 3 wide receiver Jauan Jennings, who also found pay dirt in the end zone, had three catches for 28 yards.

Nice to see him making an impact.

Same with fill-in running back Jeff Wilson Jr., getting his second start of the season with rookie runner Elijah Mitchell still out with injury, and Wilson rushed 21 times for 110 yards, a touchdown and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

Jimmy Garoppolo again doing his best to help 49ers win

As long as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo protects the ball, the 49ers win games. They’re now 7-0 in bouts where Jimmy G hasn’t tossed an interception, and he was clear from adding on one of those turnovers in this game.

It was good to see Garoppolo test the deeper portions of the field at times, too, even hitting Kittle for a nifty 28-yard reception between the hash marks.

Read More: Nick Bosa should be top candidate for Defensive Player of the Year

Overall, Garoppolo finished the day going 18-of-23 for 235 yards, one touchdown against zero interceptions for a 123.7 passer rating. Considering some of the mistakes the Niners were making elsewhere early in the game, Garoppolo not being involved in them was a key reason why Week 15 turned into a one-sided win.

With the win, San Francisco improves to 8-6 and holds onto the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff picture with wins in hand over many of the other contending seeds in the conference, the Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and now the Falcons. And the 49ers will watch closely the No. 7-seeded Washington Football Team’s game on Tuesday against the Eagles, as well as the No. 5-seeded Los Angeles Rams host the Seattle Seahawks the same evening.

That could play as a huge X-factor in the tiebreaking scenarios once the regular season comes to a close after Week 18.

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