No team in the NFL at this point in the season is immune to injuries.
The San Francisco 49ers seem susceptible to them, particularly to impact players at key positions. Quarterbacks Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo are both (effectively) lost for the season, thrusting seventh-round draft pick Brock Purdy into a starting role under center.
On Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, star wide receiver Deebo Samuel was crying as he was carted off the field with an ankle injury. Despite initial reports he may have avoided severe injury – head coach Kyle Shanahan said it could be a high-ankle sprain – it was another blow to San Francisco.
The depleted depth didn’t slow down the 49ers, who throttled Tom Brady and the Bucs, 35-7, and increased their NFC West lead to two games thanks to a Seattle Seahawks loss.
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“This is a fun (expletive) group to be a part of,” linebacker Fred Warner said in the locker room after the game.
Here are five reasons the 49ers remain contenders in the NFC – even if Samuel misses extended time.
Even with a third-string quarterback, Shanahan’s offense showed no signs of regression going up against one of the league’s better defenses. The Niners needed less than 31 minutes of game time to run up a 35-0 lead and make the Buccaneers look silly.
San Francisco averaged 6.8 yards per play and was 4-of-9 on third downs. The Niners have now won six in a row.
If the Niners can keep their division lead and host a home playoff game, it will go a long way in helping them return to the Super Bowl for the second time in four seasons.
For all of Shanahan’s flowers, the laurels for defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans should come in the form of a head coaching job. His unit’s sustained success dating back to last season will make him a hot commodity once again on the coaching carousel. The 49ers entered Week 14 as the top overall defense with the fewest points and yards allowed.
Brady threw two interceptions, and although they did not sack him, the 49ers logged seven quarterback hits. The Bucs also converted third downs at a 25% (4-for-16) clip.
Warner (eight tackles) is one of the NFL’s most underrated and fearsome players, while Dre Greenlaw had 15 combined tackles and one of the picks against Tampa Bay.
Samuel is a unicorn in this league, and there is no replacing what he can do. The Niners, however, could patch together enough production to compensate until their wideout, who is also an asset in the run game, can return.
Purdy connected with tight end George Kittle (four receptions, 28 yards) early to settle into a rhythm. Running back Christian McCaffrey had his best game with the 49ers since his mid-season trade, rushing 14 times for 119 yards and catching a 27-yard touchdown pass from Purdy.
Receiver Brandon Aiyuk, the team’s leading receiver, was quieter against the Buccaneers with two catches but one was a 32-yard touchdown grab with 15 seconds left in the first half to make it 28-0.
Not a bad game for “Mr. Irrelevant.”
The last pick of the 2022 NFL draft balled out in his first start, scoring on a 2-yard scramble on the first play of the second quarter to make it 14-0. He followed that with impressive passes to McCaffrey and Aiyuk for their respective scores and finished an efficient 16-of-21 for 185 yards. He also did not throw an interception and was not sacked.
Who are the real contenders in NFC?
Aside from the Philadelphia Eagles, who clinched a playoff berth Sunday thanks to their 48-22 demolition of the New York Giants, the NFC lacks dominant teams.
The Minnesota Vikings, currently ahead of the 49ers by a game for the No. 2 seed in the conference, have defensive questions and are 2-2 in their last four games. The Dallas Cowboys almost lost to the Houston Texans. Whoever wins the NFC South, which is led by the 6-7 Bucs, doesn’t appear to be much of a threat.
The door will be open for San Francisco.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
Story Credit: usatoday.com