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49ers 3 & Out: Young secondary shines in 49ers emotional Week 15 win

Optimism is flying high for the 49ers after a scintillating overtime victory.

Sunday’s 26-23 overtime victory over the Seahawks gives San Francisco two consecutive wins, both facing contenders who entered their matchups riding winning streaks.

The win also guaranteed San Francisco no worse than a .500 record at home this year, following losing records in 2016 and 2017. For a team as young and beat up as this one to accomplish that has to be huge for Kyle Shanahan.

Excuses are secondary

The young guys in the secondary are showing promise in difficult spots.

The 49ers secondary was already without Adrian Colbert, Jimmie Ward, K’Waun Williams and Jaquiski Tartt heading into Week 15. Then, on Seattle’s first possession, Akhello Witherspoon suffered a knee injury, leaving Richard Sherman and Antone Exum Jr. as the only expected contributors.

That didn’t faze the underclassmen.

Rookies Tarvarius Moore, Marcell Harris and D.J. Reed all made significant impacts on Sunday.

Moore had to become Sherman’s full-time counterpart at corner, and he didn’t become “that guy to pick on.” Moore held his own, sticking with his assignments and coming up with a big pass break up on Seattle’s final drive of regulation, one that prevented the Seahawks from approaching or entering field-goal range.

Harris has been super-exciting to watch the past couple of games. He is always around the ball, always seems to be in on every other tackle. And Reed had a solid five-tackle day after 12 tackles and a sack last week against Denver.

The three rookies combined for 18 tackles on Sunday, which is impressive when you consider that Seattle’s three main receivers — Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and David Moore — had just seven catches combined. The majority of those tackles were made on running plays and running back receptions, of which the Seahawks had 35 and 14, respectively.

They deserve a lot of praise, but the defensive line’s impact can’t be overlooked, thanks to one guy in particular.

A path through DeForest

DeForest Buckner is blossoming in his third year.

His two sacks on Sunday give him 11 on the season, marking his first career double-digit sack season. Those 11 also place him second among defensive tackles in that category this season, right behind superstar Aaron Donald.

Buckner has grown quietly, both literally and perceptively.

The soft-spoken captain in his third year doesn’t get much national attention due to the 49ers current lowly status. Regardless, Sherman believes he’s witnessed a breakout year from Buckner:

“Every game [of Bucker’s] is impactful. I think it [Sunday’s game against Seattle] might have been the most statistically impactful game, in terms of the naked eye being able to see him affect the game. It says a ton about him [to get two sacks on Russell Wilson]. Russell’s not an easy guy to get your hands on. And ‘Defo’ has had three sacks in the two games that we’ve played him. He deserves to be in the Pro Bowl this year.”

Pic-Nick in Santa Clara

Nick Mullens continues to act as if he’s been the starter all along.

He went 20-of-29 for 275 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. Last week against the Broncos, he went 20-of-33 for 332 yards and two touchdowns. And of course, we all know at this point about his historic debut versus Oakland.

Obviously he hasn’t been errorless, but Mullens’ decision-making has improved over the last three weeks.

I don’t think I’ve seen an undrafted quarterback play this well this soon since Tony Romo.

For comparison, Romo had a 6-4 record once he took over the Cowboys’ starting job in 2006. He threw for 2,903 yards, 19 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and he completed 65.3% of his passes. Mullens’ six career games have yielded a 3-3 record, 1,754 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 64.5% completion percentage.

It looks like Mullens has solidified his spot as Jimmy Garoppolo’s backup. But John Lynch will definitely be getting a few phone calls about him.

Looking at you, Jacksonville.

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