Observations of the 49ers: Defense takes over in the decisive 22:16 victory over the Chargers

Observations of the 49ers: Defense takes over in the decisive 22:16 victory over the Chargers

SANTA CLARA — After a bumpy start on both sides of the ball, the 49ers got rolling in the second half against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The 49ers ended their three-game sweep against Southern California-based teams Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium with a 22-16 win over the Chargers.

Quarterback Justin Herbert led the Chargers to an easy touchdown drive to open the game. The 49ers’ defense kept them out of the end zone for the final 51 1/2 minutes of the game.

Talanoa Hufanga won the game with an interception less than a minute from time.

The 49ers (5-4) are now taking to the streets. The team will travel to the heights of Colorado Springs for training during the week, acclimatizing for Mexico City, where they will face the Arizona Cardinals next Monday night.

But first, let’s take a look at three takeaways from their game against the Chargers (5-4):

49ers transform into a second-half team

The 49ers won a game against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West with the come-from-behind victory about 12 hours after the Seahawks lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Munich, Germany.

The Seahawks still lead the division with a 6-4 record while the 49ers improved to 5-4 with their second win in two games over a Los Angeles team.

The 49ers turned their attention to the running game, and Jimmy Garoppolo helped the team hold a few big drives along with third-down conversions.

The 49ers took their first lead midway through the fourth quarter with a 2-yard touchdown from Christian McCaffrey, giving them a 19-16 lead.

Garoppolo completed 19 of 28 pass attempts for 240 yards. He threw no touchdown passes and was not intercepted.

But the 49ers, predictably, relied heavily on their running game.

The 49ers gained 158 yards on 40 rush attempts.

Elijah Mitchell returned after missing seven games with a sprained knee. He led the 49ers with 89 yards rushing on 18 carries.
McCaffrey added 38 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

Greenlaw was ejected after a hit deemed illegal

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw was penalized, but the Chargers might have received the larger short-term penalty.

On a third and sixth play from the 40’s 40, Herbert ran. Greenlaw hit Herbert at the end of the 5-yard helm-to-helmet gain.

Greenlaw was penalized for unnecessary rudeness and kicked out of the game because his punch at Herbert was judged blatant.

While Greenlaw was forced to go to the dressing room, Herbert was removed from the game to be checked for a possible head injury.

Backup quarterback Chase Daniel fielded for the last three games of the first half. He threw incomplete twice and was dismissed by Jordan Willis for third.

Cameron Dicker gave the Chargers a 16-10 lead at halftime with a 40-yard field goal.

Herbert was deleted and returned to action in the second half, but the Chargers opted for three points in lieu of the touchdown, which had a better shot with Herbert at quarterback.

Slow start to bye week

The 49ers played their best half of football in bye week.

They didn’t broadcast that dynamic two Sundays later.

The 49ers offense was much more about “potential” than “potency” — even with a long list of playmakers on this side of football.

After the Los Angeles Rams were rolled out 31-14 in the second half in Week 8, it was all about the 49ers’ limitless number of offensive playmakers. The 49ers still have to show this offensive explosiveness consistently.

The 49ers opened with a 14-play drive for 67 yards that earned them just three points.

Then the rest of the first half was horrendous.

Brandon Aiyuk fumbled after a 19-yard reception on the first play of the 49ers’ next drive.

Consecutive three-and-offs followed. Mitch Wishnowsky’s punt was deflected, establishing the Chargers’ second field goal of the game and a 13-3 lead in the second quarter.

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The 49ers finally got something going on their last drive of the first half.

Garoppolo hit George Kittle for 21 yards and Ray-Ray McCloud for 33 yards.

Garoppolo got the last yard for his seventh career rushing touchdown.

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