Versatile Deebo Samuel ‘does it all’ for 49ers
The 49ers are a team known for toughness, unrelenting will and physicality, and no player exemplifies those traits more this season than All-Pro receiver Deebo Samuel.
And Samuel will be the most important player on the field for the 49ers when they travel to play the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game — a trip they earned with back-to-back road wins to open the playoffs against the Cowboys and Packers.
The 49ers managed just 212 yards of offense Saturday night at frigid Lambeau Field in the divisional round, their lowest statistical output of the season. But they came away from the stunning upset over the top-seeded Packers with Samuel’s fingerprints all over it.
Samuel secured San Francisco’s final first down, ensuring Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t get the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead. Samuel took a pitch to the right on a third-and-7, jammed through a pair of defenders and surged forward for the crucial first down.
“I just knew I was going to hit it full speed and whatever happens at that point is going to happen,” Samuel said afterward.
Three players later, Robbie Gould kicked the game-winning 45-yard field goal, stunning the 79,000-plus in attendance and sending San Francisco to its second NFC title game in three seasons.
Samuel as a running back
It was another example of Samuel’s value to the rushing attack, as he’s having one of the best rushing seasons for a receiver in NFL history. Samuel set a record for the position with eight rushing scores — and he became the only wideout to have 1,000 receiving yards, five receiving touchdowns and at least five on the ground.
“He’s an athlete, man,” Jimmy Garoppolo said after the game Saturday. “He does it all.”
Samuel’s 72 rushing yards in the wild-card round against the Dallas Cowboys were the most by a receiver in any postseason game. He scored the decisive 26-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter of that contest, which came a week after scoring on the ground and with a pass to receiver Jauan Jennings in the had-to-have-it victory over the Rams in the regular-season finale.
The past two seasons, the 49ers have gone to Samuel in crucial situations when a first down would effectively end games. In an October victory over the Rams this season, he converted a third-and-7 with a jet sweep pass — a pop pass that head coach Kyle Shanahan considers a running play — for an 11-yard gain preceding two Garoppolo kneel-downs. Samuel bowled through defenders emphatically in a way he’s become known for.
In Dallas two weeks ago, Samuel was called upon on a third-and-10, and nearly converted the first down in the final moments, but he was ruled inches short on replay. Saturday’s run that set up Gould’s field goal was just the latest example.
“It’s just really a sense of trust. He’s earned it,” tight end George Kittle said. “He’s delivered when the stakes are at the highest. Every game he plays at an incredibly high level. He never takes a game off. And whether he’s getting balls in the run game or the pass game, or not, he still goes out there and plays at a high level.”
Samuel vs. the Rams
Which sets up things for Sunday in LA. Samuel has been San Francisco’s most dominant weapon against the Rams in their previous two matchups this season. During the season-changing win over the Rams in Week 10, Samuel had 97 receiving yards while catching all five of his targets with a touchdown, while adding five carries for 36 yards and a rushing score.
In Week 18, the game the 49ers had to win to get into the postseason, Samuel had 95 receiving yards and 45 on the ground with another rushing score. His 43-yard catch and run inside the final minute set up the game-tying touchdown at the end of regulation before the 49ers won it in overtime.
Samuel, who has become a leader behind the scenes in his third NFL season, shared the credit with his teammates when asked Saturday about why he’s become so effective as a runner.
“It shows the trust that Kyle has in all 11 guys out there, from the offensive linemen to Juice (fullback Kyle Juszczyk), to all the wideouts, just the physicality,” he said. “In this offense, every guy in the running game is accounted for blocking. There’s just one guy left and you got to go out there and make the play.”
But Samuel is banged up, making his status worth monitoring as the week goes on. He hobbled off the field with an apparent ankle injury during the final drive against the Packers, though Shanahan said he didn’t notice any leg injury when he was celebrating the win with Samuel.
In the first half, Samuel suffered a shoulder stinger that caused to leave the game temporarily, before his 45-yard kickoff return set up the team’s first field goal attempt to open the third quarter.
Shanahan’s decision to give Samuel the ball on that final third down was an easy one. It was the type of game where the most important thing was to give the ball to his best players to carry the offense.
“Yeah, I think it was as simple as that a lot of times today. Just the type of game it was,” Shanahan said. “He had a chance (to score) every time. The fact that he has that skill set makes it a lot easier to give him the ball.”