SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In their two losses this season, the San Francisco 49ers‘ defense just needed a little help from the offense. On Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams, it turns out what was really needed was a heaping helping of Deebo Samuel.
The Niners’ previously struggling offense got the spark it needed from Samuel, who ignited the offense with a whirling dervish of a 57-yard touchdown catch and went on to a six-catch, 115-yard night. San Francisco’s suffocating defense took care of the rest in a 24-9 victory that was the Niners’ seventh straight against the Rams in the regular season. The victory pushed the 49ers to 2-2 on the season and 2-0 in the NFC West.
San Francisco 49ers
Eye-popping Next Gen stat: Samuel’s 57-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter included 51 yards after catch over expectation, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That’s the second most on any pass play for the Niners since 2016, behind only the 83-yard catch he had to set up a score in a Week 8 win against the Chicago Bears in 2021. Samuel ran a total of 79.7 yards on the touchdown.
Buy Talanoa Hufanga‘s breakout performance: The Niners’ second-year strong safety looked like an emerging star in the season’s first three weeks with his fearless, attacking style and better-than-his-40-time coverage skills. But Hufanga made a big statement in front of a national audience Monday night, stepping in front of a short Matthew Stafford throw and juggling the ball a bit before securing it and racing 52 yards for the game-sealing touchdown. The Niners’ defense is already star-studded, but it looks like they’ll need room for one more.
QB breakdown: 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo insisted all week that finding a rhythm was a work in progress and would take some time. And while that was clearly still the case on Monday, Garoppolo undoubtedly improved from Week 3 to Week 4. Garoppolo missed some throws he needs to make, but he was mostly on time and getting rid of the ball quickly behind an offensive line missing star left tackle Trent Williams. Most important, he had zero turnovers in a game in which a giveaway could have turned the outcome. He finished 16-of-27 for 239 yards with a touchdown for a passer rating of 100.7. –– Nick Wagoner
Underrated statistic to know: The first-quarter field goal by Rams kicker Matt Gay marked the first points the 49ers have allowed on their first defensive possession this season. It was also the first points allowed by the 49ers in a first quarter this season. They were the last team to allow a first-quarter point.
Next game: at Panthers (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Los Angeles Rams
Coach Sean McVay said after the Los Angeles Rams‘ Week 3 victory that the offense was still figuring out its identity. In the Rams’ loss on Monday night, that identity did not involve finding the end zone against an excellent San Francisco 49ers defense.
QB breakdown: For the second week in a row, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford did not throw a touchdown, but this time, Los Angeles’ offense couldn’t do enough for an NFC West victory. Stafford completed 32 of 48 passes for 254 yards with an interception and a fumble. The offense once again ran through Cooper Kupp on Monday night, as the wide receiver finished with 14 catches for 122 yards. Only Kupp and tight end Tyler Higbee had more than three catches for the Rams.
Troubling trend: After allowing seven sacks to the Buffalo Bills in the season opener, the Rams’ offensive line held steadier in Weeks 2 and 3. But against the 49ers on Monday night, Stafford was sacked seven times, including four in the first half. Stafford was pressured 17 times, his second most since joining the Rams, per ESPN Stats & Information research. The Rams are dealing with several injuries on the offensive line and were down to their third-string center, Jeremiah Kolone, after center Coleman Shelton left the game with an ankle injury.
Biggest hole in the game plan: Stopping Samuel continues to be an issue for Los Angeles. Including the playoffs, Samuel has scored five touchdowns against the Rams since the start of the 2021 season. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that is tied for the most by any player against any team since the start of last season. Samuel finished with six catches for 115 yards, although 57 yards came on the biggest play of the game, when Samuel evaded several Rams tacklers for a long catch and run for the touchdown. Samuel had two plays for 29 or more yards on Monday. The Rams have one of that distance or more all season. — Sarah Barshop
Underrated statistic to know: Stafford’s pick-six that Talanoa Hufanga returned for a 52-yard score in the fourth quarter was just the third on a screen pass in the past three seasons across the league (Tom Brady threw one in 2021 and Cam Newton threw one in 2020).
Next game: vs. Cowboys (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)