Don’t go kicking crumbs of rubber on the San Francisco 49ers’ casket just yet.
The injury-ravaged Niners entered Sunday’s game against the New York Giants with 10 projected starters out because of injury. And they were returning to the artificial surface of MetLife Stadium, where many of those injuries occurred.
No matter, the 49ers dominated the struggling Giants from beginning to end, surging to a 36-9 victory and improving to 2-1 on the season. Yes, it was just another win against another lowly New York team but that shouldn’t mean the Niners get any less credit for what they did on their two-game New York swing.
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On Sunday, the Niners were missing defensive end Dee Ford (back), quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle), linebacker Dre Greenlaw (quadriceps), tight end George Kittle (knee), running backs Raheem Mostert (knee) and Tevin Coleman (knee), receivers Deebo Samuel (foot), Jalen Hurd (ACL) and Richie James Jr. (hamstring), cornerback Richard Sherman (calf) and defensive linemen Nick Bosa (ACL) and Solomon Thomas (ACL).
For as long and daunting as that list looks, the only players who have been ruled out for the year are Bosa, Thomas and Hurd. While those are important losses, especially Bosa, the Niners should be getting most everybody else back at some point in the near future. After Week 6, center Weston Richburg, defensive end Ronald Blair III and defensive lineman Jullian Taylor can return from the physically unable to perform list.
With winnable games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins the next two weeks at Levi’s Stadium, the Niners have every reason to believe they can be 4-1 when the Los Angeles Rams come calling on Oct. 18. By then, they could be back closer to full strength and ready to prove they are still a legitimate contender.
Count them out at your own peril.
QB Breakdown: Backup quarterback Nick Mullens looked right at home stepping in for Garoppolo, completing 25 of 36 passes for 343 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. His passer rating was 108.9 and the Niners did not punt or have a turnover. You can’t ask for much more from your backup and the Niners have to feel good about him starting again if Garoppolo’s ankle doesn’t allow him to return next week.
Buy Brandon Aiyuk’s breakout performance: Perhaps it’s an overstatement to call Aiyuk’s day a “breakout” but there were some encouraging signs that the rookie receiver is starting to get comfortable. On a second-half drive to put the game away, Aiyuk had three catches for 39 yards and a 19-yard touchdown run. He finished with 70 yards on five catches and three carries for 31 yards with that score.
With reinforcements on the way, Aiyuk’s target share probably will remain about the same but he’s earned the right to remain a prominent part of the offense moving forward.
Troubling trend: Long snappers don’t often get more reliable than the Niners’ Kyle Nelson but he had a day to forget. Nelson’s snaps were all over the place on field goals and extra points. Holder Mitch Wishnowsky did well to give kicker Robbie Gould the chance to get most of his kicks off, but Nelson had several that were either too high or too low. One of those resulted in a missed field goal for Gould. Another meant a missed extra point. Backup offensive lineman Justin Skule replaced Nelson as the snapper on the team’s final extra point.
The good news is that Nelson’s woes didn’t hurt the team. But whatever the issue, it’s something the 49ers will have to take a look at this week to figure out if Nelson can return to form.