49ers win disjointed, sloppy Sunday Night Football tilt vs. Chargers

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

42. Final. 16. 13. 22

The 49ers should have walked all over the Chargers on Sunday night, especially with a strong rushing offense, but things played out very differently.

Week 10’s Sunday Night Football bout between the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers was proof positive that the predicted narrative about a game is rarely what ends up happening when the opening kickoff actually takes place.

The Bolts entered the week with the NFL’s worst run defense, allowing a whopping 5.7 yards per carry. Facing off against All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, the multifaceted wide receiver Deebo Samuel and a fully healthy tailback in Elijah Mitchell, the Niners figured they would run rampant all over head coach Brandon Staley’s defense.

Well, that didn’t happen.

San Francisco ultimately came from behind to beat Los Angeles 22-16 in prime time to improve to 5-4 on the season, and the Chargers essentially sold out to stop the run by placing five, six and even seven defenders in the box to prevent McCaffrey, Samuel and Mitchell from doing damage on the ground.

The 49ers did manage to gain some rushing momentum in the second half, but Sunday night would ultimately be up to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners defense to stave off what Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and a banged-up Bolts offense would try to counter with.

Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers offense overcome/succumb to sloppy efforts

Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk fumbled a ball the Chargers recovered, and later on, he dropped a would-be touchdown in the end zone. Tight end George Kittle had only two targets and one reception for 21 yards.

From a grander scheme of things, San Francisco had difficulty adjusting to Los Angeles’ attempts to take away the run game. It was provocative to see head coach Kyle Shanahan not take advantage of more screen plays to take advantage of loaded boxes.

Shanahan also settled for field goals early at a point when Herbert and the Chargers were aggressively attacking the 49ers secondary, and that was questionable, too.

That said, Garoppolo still managed to go 19-of-28 for 240 yards, and his 1-yard rushing touchdown was about as predictable (and successful) a play as the Niners would have in that situation.

And, on San Francisco’s go-ahead drive, Garoppolo allowed Aiyuk to make up for his earlier gaffes with a key 24-yard catch-and-run play that ultimately set up McCaffrey’s 1-yard touchdown run:

Despite being relatively corraled on the ground McCaffrey still managed to rush for 38 yards, averaging 2.7 yards per attempt, while adding 39 yards through the air on four catches.

However, Mitchell was the 49ers’ best rusher and finished with 89 yards on 18 carries for an average of 4.9 yards per rush, and it was beneficial having him back after he suffered an MCL sprain back in Week 1 and was placed on injured reserve in the weeks leading up to Sunday night.

But all of that doesn’t help cover up some of the weirdness from the game.

49ers watch Dre Greenlaw get ejected, non-call on a would-be touchback

On one play just before halftime, Herbert took off as a rusher and was well beyond the line of scrimmage. Knocked off his trajectory by defensive back Jimmie Ward, linebacker Dre Greenlaw ultimately landed a hit on Herbert with his helmet.

Subsequently, Greenlaw was flagged for unnecessary roughness, and while that might have been acceptable, the officials eventually concluded it was an egregious move and ejected the linebacker from the game.

Few on the Sunday Night Football broadcast agreed with the ejection.

Then, late in the game on a punt that would pin the Chargers at their own 1-yard line just before the two-minute warning, cornerback Samuel Womack downed punter Mitch Wishnowsky’s punt but slowly backed into the end zone in what should have been a touchback.

It wasn’t called, though, and Los Angeles couldn’t convert a first down after that play, and the Niners took over on downs and added a much-needed field goal to make it 22-16.

Would the touchback have mattered? Maybe. But it’s hindsight.

Regardless, San Francisco will take the victory especially after playing awfully flat for the better part of four quarters.

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