49ers dominate Browns on Monday Night Football

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SANTA CLARA — The 49ers no longer will sit at the children’s table of the NFL. They officially have arrived at the adult table.

For the first time since 1990, they’re 4-0. They played a playoff-type game Monday night against the Cleveland Browns, one of the most talented teams in the NFL, a team that expects to make the playoffs this season, and destroyed them 31-3. Exposed them. Showed the league what a real contender looks like.

The 49ers were coming off a bye week — they could have been rusty. Instead, they were prepared, focused and rested. As opposed to the Browns, who never really showed up.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield had the worst game of his career, courtesy of the 49ers defense. He completed 8 of 22 passes for 100 yards, and posted a microscopic quarterback rating of 13.4. The 49ers sacked him three times and harassed him most of the night.

“I got a lot of one-on-one opportunities tonight and I knew I could win them,” said rookie defensive end Nick Bosa, who recorded two sacks. “Just having Dee Ford burning off the edge, and Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner (in the middle), Baker couldn’t see anything downfield.”

The 49ers defense was phenomenal all game long. It forced three turnovers and held Browns All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to just two catches and 27 yards. The 49ers defense accomplished all of this without Ahkello Witherspoon, their starting cornerback who missed the game with a foot sprain. His replacement, Emmanuel Moseley, played well, even breaking up a pass in the end zone.

Beckham’s best play was the Browns’ first of the game. He ran a reverse, received a handoff and threw a 20-yard strike downfield to Jarvis Landry.

“They did some trick stuff to get something cheap,” 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead.

The Browns quickly ran out of trick stuff and punted three plays later. The 49ers got the ball at their 17-yard line and, on first and 10, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo handed off the ball to Matt Breida.

“I saw a big hole,” Breida recalled.

Here’s what Garoppolo saw: “Breida was through that hole so fast, he was 10 yards down the field by the time I looked back,” Garoppolo said. “Breida hit the jets after that.”

Breida sprinted 83 yards in a straight line to the end zone for the touchdown. The Browns never touched him. They were helpless.

“It’s a big boost,” Breida said of his long touchdown run. “The whole team feels that energy.”

The game felt over after Breida’s run, because the Browns were so inept. But, the score was only 7-0, and the first quarter had just started. The Browns got the ball a second time. And on the first play of their second drive, Mayfield fired a pass over the middle, which cornerback Richard Sherman intercepted. A few minutes later, Garoppolo threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Breida, and the 49ers led 14-0. Now, the game really felt over. And, essentially, it was.

The Browns never put up a fight. The 49ers didn’t let them. The 49ers ran for 127 yards in the first quarter alone, and finished the game with a gargantuan 275 yards on the ground.

“We have a great backfield, one of the best in the league,” Breida said. “As long as we stay healthy, we’re going to keep doing what we do.”

Breida rushed 11 times for 114 yards and one touchdown. Fellow running back Tevin Coleman, who suffered a high-ankle sprain Week 1 and missed the past two games, rushed 16 times for 97 yards and one touchdown.

The 49ers’ passing game struggled at times. Jimmy Garoppolo threw for just 181 yards, but also threw two touchdown passes, no interceptions and posted an impressive quarterback rating of 108.5. He didn’t need to be prolific. Efficient was good enough.

“The running game makes everything easier,” Garoppolo said. “It sets up play action, and defenses start loading the box. Once that happens, everything falls into place.”

The 49ers put the Browns away for good during the 49ers’ first drive of the second half. They drove 90 yards in nine plays, and Garoppolo finished the drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass to George Kittle. At this point, the 49ers led 28-3. Game over.

Except, not quite. The 49ers kept their starters in the game, kept playing hard. This decision cost them. With 3:10 remaining in the third quarter, fullback Kyle Juszczyk injured his left knee and left the game. The 49ers hope his injury is just a knee sprain and nothing more serious. He will have an MRI on Tuesday.

“We’re going to have a lot of challenges ahead of us, especially if we don’t get Juszczyk next week,” Shanahan said. “That’s a big factor for our run game. It’s just a matter of time until we have to throw more.”

The 49ers may have to throw lots more to beat their next opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, a division rival. That game will be even bigger and more important than this one was.

But, the 49ers don’t have to go there just yet. For now, they can groove on this win, celebrate their undefeated record and enjoy their brand-new seat at the adult table of the NFL. They earned it.

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