49ers football is back after the extra-long Week 4 bye, which felt much longer than 15 days. On the big stage for the first time this season, an all-around dominant effort from Jimmy Garoppolo (20-29, 181 yards, 2 TD’s), Matt Breida (11 carries, 114 yards, two total TD’s) and the 49ers defense overpowered an inconsistent Browns team 31-3 Monday night.
The 3-0 49ers welcomed Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., and the 2-2 Cleveland Browns to Levi’s Stadium for a prime-time matchup.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the 49ers locker room at Levi’s Stadium.
With both teams missing multiple key players, Monday night’s contest could have been anybody’s game. The 49ers, without Joe Staley, Ahkello Witherspoon, Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd, and Jason Verrett crushed the Browns, who were without star cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams.
The running game is lethal
This game started in an interesting way. The Browns received the kickoff and punted on their first drive, even after a Beckham Jr. trick play that resulted in the star receiver completing a 20-yard pass downfield to his teammate Jarvis Landry. The 49ers took over and worked quickly, extremely quick. On the very first play of the drive, Matt Breida, who was starting at running back, took a handoff 83 yards to the house. After only one play, the 49ers had a 7-0 lead.
Following Monday night’s game, Breida broke down his big run on the 49ers first drive, and why the run game was working so well. He was asked what he saw on the play:
“A big hole. I saw a big hole. The offensive line, and the receivers did a great job of blocking. The play worked out how it was supposed to. [Reporter: “As a total run game, you had it rolling tonight. What was working?”] “Everything. I thought we could run the ball on every play on them. Again, a big shout out to the offensive line, the receivers, the quarterbacks, everyone was doing their job today. It is a team game.”
The third 49ers drive consisted of multiple big plays in both the passing and running game. A drive, that would end in a touchdown reception from Breida to put the 49ers up 14-0, was mostly due to the team accumulating 127 yards rushing in the first quarter alone.
Just before halftime, the 49ers got the ball back after an interception on defense, and wouldn’t you know it, they gashed the Browns run defense for another score. This time, it was Tevin Coleman who ran the ball in from 19 yards out, giving the 49ers a 21-3 lead before the half. By this point, the 49ers had accumulated 185 rushing yards on 14 carries, averaging 13.2 yards per carry.
The 49ers rushing attack eclipsed 250 yards on the ground Monday night. Finishing the game with 275 yards rushing, at a 6.9 yards-per-carry clip, the run game was the driving force behind the 49ers success on offense.
The 49ers defense had already arrived, but now it’s official
The very first play after that 83-yard run by Breida in the first, Mayfield began the Browns second drive of the game with an interception into the hands of Richard Sherman. The team’s sixth interception of the season ranks among the league’s best.
Cleveland’s third drive resulted in a sack from a 49ers blitz of Mayfield on third down. Kwon Alexander and K’Waun Williams combined for the sack. The very next Browns drive resulted in another turnover, this time by the rookie. A Mayfield scramble in the final minutes of the first quarter resulted in a forced fumble by DeForest Buckner, which was recovered by rookie defensive end Nick Bosa. The 49ers had picked up two turnovers already through one quarter of football.
Halfway through the second quarter, the Browns marched down the field for their best drive of the first half. On the 6-yard line, Mayfield threw a pass intended for Antonio Callaway, which was intercepted at the goal line by Williams. Through one half, the had 49ers forced three turnovers.
Both Bosa and defensive end Dee Ford have each battled injuries in the first quarter of the season, that is until tonight. Both were active and made their presence felt right away. Bosa, in particular, was a monster in the first half. Recording his second sack of the season, along with four quarterback hits and two tackles for a loss, a healthy Bosa along with a healthy Ford is proving to be very overpowering.
It’s no secret that the 49ers have plenty of pass-rush options on the defensive line. Sometimes one of them will get double-teamed, which opens up opportunities for the rest of the defensive line. After the game, Bosa discussed how everyone on the line can feast:
“I got a lot of one-on-one opportunities tonight and i knew that i could win them. Just having Dee [Ford] burning off the edge and the inside guys Arik [Armstead], [DeForest Buckner] Buck, just closing it. Baker couldn’t see anything downfield. Some of my sacks should go to them.”
In the 4th quarter, with just over 11 minutes left to play, Bosa would strike again. A sack and a forced fumble, recovered by the Browns, would mark the first multi-sack game of Bosa’s career.
The 49ers defense made a statement Monday night, holding the Browns to only three points. Richard Sherman had a message to all the 49ers doubters:
“You don’t worry about it, you want idiots to sound like idiots. We want them to hold their position the whole year. Dont flip-flop with us, if you said we won’t make it, you said we were some way early on, stick with that position. Hold it. Don’t try and give us credit now, don’t try and give us credit now, just stick with it. If you had us ranked 25th, then you had us ranked 25th. If you had us going three-and-whatever, then have us going three-and-whatever, at least stick by your word. I want you to look like an idiot at the end. We know the talent we’ve got in the building, we know the talent we have, we know the talent that Kyle [Shanahan] and John [Lynch] put together.”
Key replacements can handle their own
Injuries to both Staley and Witherspoon will have two key 49ers sideline for awhile. Replacing them are Emmanuel Moseley (at cornerback) and Justin Skule (at left tackle). Concerns over the two unproven players taking on key roles on offense and defense are certainly warranted, although Monday night, they handled their own pretty well. Skule saw plenty of Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, while Moseley saw both Beckham Jr. and Landry at times. At the beginning of the second quarter, Moseley broke up a potential touchdown pass to Browns tight end Demetrius Harris.
The Browns first sack of Garoppolo Monday night indeed came from Garrett. Surprisingly, he was matched up against second-year tackle Mike McGlinchey, not Skule. The Browns would seemingly avoid the other 49ers replacement, Moseley. Throughout the first quarter, Mayfield targeted Sherman’s side of the field instead of Moseley.
Shanahan discussed Moseley’s performance in the Monday night victory:
“From what i saw, he played a lot like we expected. The game is not too big for E-Man. He’s very competitive out there. He started out with us just how physical he plays and how hard he goes on special teams and he came over and got a lot of playing time on defense and it looked like the same guy. He’s always going to play physically, not turn anything down. And when i did see them challenge him, especially on that go route by our sidelines, there’s no hesitation and he tried to get after it.”
Shanahan touched on Skule’s performance as well:
“Felt good out there. I didn’t say his name very much, which is always a good sign for an O-Linemann. We’ll see tonight when we watch the tape and tomorrow, but definitely played good enough for us to win.”
The 49ers do not have a No. 1 wide receiver, and it’s not an issue
If there is a disgruntled wide receiver somewhere, the 49ers have and will be attached to any trade rumors surrounding them. Both Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have been adamant about drafting and developing their own stars, and that includes a wide receiver.
Dante Pettis was originally pegged as the 49ers No. 1 receiver heading into the preseason before he struggled out of the gate, getting out-snapped by Deebo Samuel. Garoppolo’s favorite targets have been a mix of running backs, wide receivers and his tight end. A very balanced mix of pass catchers. Monday night was no different, Garoppolo spread the ball around to everybody, and it worked. The 49ers are having success on offense despite not having that go-to, star receiver that so many expect them to add at some point.
Even with the balanced distribution of targets to all of the 49ers play-makers, George Kittle will always be the number-one option. The 49ers first drive of the third quarter ended with the Pro Bowl tight end getting into the end zone for the first time all season.
Old-school football, with a new-school twist
Through four games, the 49ers have had so much success due to the way they run the ball and play defense. An old-school style of play has become less and less common in today’s NFL. In a pass-first league, the 49ers are winning on the ground, with a splash of offensive trickery and excellent play calling by their head coach. In a blowout game, Garoppolo threw for 181 yards, while on the defensive side of the ball, allowing only 3 points to an offense that consists of Mayfield, Beckham Jr., Landry and Chubb will make a loud statement.
Monday night was a ‘statement-game,’ and the 49ers say ‘Hello America’
The 49ers steamrolled the newly-crowned “America’s Team” with America watching. A 31-3 blowout on national television was a statement game for the 49ers, who are one of two undefeated teams left in the NFL (Patriots, 5-0).
The 49ers (4-0) travel to Los Angeles to face the third-place Los Angeles Rams (3-2), who are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Seahawks Thursday night. Fortunately for the 49ers, they will not have to travel far for their short-week matchup in Week 6.
Kyle Shanahan has his 49ers 4-0 to start the season. As the only team in the NFC without a loss, he was asked what the undefeated start to the season means:
“It means it’s still early. It means we played four games, one less than most people. If you tell me that at the end of the year when the season is over, you’ll see e celebrating up here pretty hard. It’s going to be a short week and we’ve got to get to work on the Rams pretty early tomorrow.”
- Nick Bosa’s sack-celebration was not the only taunt the rookie got off Monday night. Throughout the game, he was taunting Browns QB Baker Mayfield. The two have a rivalry brewing since college.
- 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk left the game early after injuring his knee. He was asked about the injury post-game and did not feel like it was an ACL injury, which is usually determined right away. Kyle Shanahan said that the injury appears to be a left-knee sprain. An MRI is scheduled for Tuesday.