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Week 4 Game Recap: San Francisco 49ers 27, Los Angeles Chargers 29


What you need to know

San Francisco 49ers

Contrary to what was expected, San Francisco didn't retreat into their shell with C.J. Beathard replacing Jimmy Garoppolo. In fact, they did the opposite, passing two-thirds of the time despite playing with a lead for over half of the game. The two biggest beneficiary of this zig-zag was Matt Breida, who played twice as much as Alfred Morris. More in line with expectation, Pierre Garcon and George Kittle, the two shallower options among receivers, dominated targets with Beathard. Although, it must be noted that Marquise Goodwin, in addition to losing the better deep passer at quarterback, also played fewer snaps than usual due to various on-again, off-again injury ailments.

Los Angeles Chargers

Running Back Melvin Gordon dominated in just about all phases of the game. He went over 100 yards on the ground, tied for a game high seven receptions, and added both a touchdown and a two point conversion through the air. He showed patience, power, vision, speed, you name it he did it.

Philip Rivers had a tough start, but quickly settled in and started picking the Niners apart. He didn't air it out down the field a great deal, but his intermediate passing game was very efficient and effective. On a day where a number of NFL quarterbacks threw for close to or over 400 yards, Rivers didn't put up eye-popping stats; but it was still solid for his owners.

Keenan Allen was on and off the practice sessions all week, and has now posted back to back quiet-ish games. Without his top guy getting open almost at will, Rivers did a nice job of spreading the ball around to multiple options.

San Francisco 49ers

QB C.J. Beathard, 60 offensive snaps, Pass: 23 - 37 - 298 - 2 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 7 - 19 - 0
More surprising than Beathard performing better than he did last season -- he's not a rookie anymore after all -- was that Kyle Shanahan was comfortable enough with him at quarterback to install a pass-heavy game plan, even with the lead. He did miss several throws along the way, but his teammates did him no favors on most of his particularly negative plays. For instance, neither of his second-half interceptions were his fault. On the first, which came on 1st-and-goal down 23-17, Garrett Celek did his best volleyball setter impression and tipped the ball over to cornerback Trevor Williams for a near pick-six. On Beathard's second interception, left tackle Garry Gilliam, who was in for an injured Joe Staley, didn't pick up a corner blitz; and Alfred Morris didn't chip the blitzer on his way into the flat. The result was Beathard getting hit as he threw the ball and the fluttering semi-fumble comfortably nestling into the awaiting arms of a defensive lineman.

RB Matt Breida, 38 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 39 - 0, Rec: 3 - 32 - 0 (3 targets)
Breida played more than twice as many snaps as Alfred Morris due to the 49ers game plan involving more passing than running. This actually opened up space for Breida's carries, as he had four runs of five yards or more. His longest run of the day was on the first play of San Francisco's second drive. The designed hole behind left tackle was wide open with fullback Kyle Juszczyk leading the way, and so Breida was able to scamper for 12 yards untouched before going out of bounds. Suprisingly, he wasn't utilized much at all as a receiver, with his biggest receiving gain coming on San Francisco's ill-fated final drive. It was a bubble route with him lined up in the slot. He caught the pass five yards behind the line of scrimmage with two blockers in front of him. The were late in arriving, however, so Breida had to make two tacklers miss in order to gain his 20 yards on the play.

RB Alfred Morris, 14 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 14 - 0, Rec: 1 - 4 - 0 (3 targets)
In a surprise turn of events, Morris hardly saw the field during a game in which the 49ers had the lead most of the time. In fact, after an 8-yard carry early in the second quarter, he didn't touch the ball again until early in the fourth quarter. Nursing an injury all week, perhaps he was healthy enough to play, but not healthy enough to play extensively.

WR Pierre Garcon, 48 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 52 - 0 (7 targets)
Over half of Garcon's yardage came on consecutive plays early in the second quarter. And both came out of an alignment that Garcon has been increasingly used in this season: the slot/flex. On the first play, he ran a quick out route against soft zone coverage, the catch was uncontested and yards after the catch were available. Lined up in the identical spot -- slot right tight -- on the next play, he ran a deep crossing pattern, once again against zone coverage, and was able to easily beat linebacker Jatavis Brown for a 23-yard catch and run.

WR Kendrick Bourne, 25 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 34 - 1 (4 targets)
With Marquise Goodwin at less than full health, and his backup Dante Pettis, getting injured on the 49ers first punt return of the game, Bourne saw a significant uptick in playing time -- at an unfamiliar position in the formation. Oddly enough, his touchdown catch actually came at his normal position before Goodwin got hurt. Substituting in for Pierre Garcon near the goal line, Bourne ran a quick slant from wide right after faking his initial step to the outside and was able to cross the face of cornerback Casey Hayward for an easy catch.

WR Marquise Goodwin, 37 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 4 - 0, Rec: 2 - 24 - 0 (4 targets)
Contrary to his typical near-100 percent snap rate, Goodwin was in and out of the game after getting cold-cocked by cornerback Desmond King III on a shallow crossing route late in the first half. Goodwin only had two significant targets, both of which came in the first half, and both were against the press man coverage of cornerback Trevor Williams. The first was a 20-yard comeback route where he made Williams look kind of silly. The second was a go route where he forced Williams to commit a holding penalty instead of getting beat deep.

TE George Kittle, 50 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 125 - 1 (8 targets)
Kittle was thrown to early and often per the 49ers game plan, seeing six of his eight targets while they were building a lead in the first half. His most spectacular play, however, came late in the third quarter, when he scored an 82-yard touchdown to get San Francisco back within two points after blowing said lead in rapid fashion. The route, a post-corner-post route, was spectacular, as it left him completely uncovered in the deep seam. More spectacular, though, was his 60 yards of running after the catch, wherein he actually beat both cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Jahleel Addae in a foot race. And it wasn't even close.


Los Angeles Chargers

QB Philip Rivers, 68 offensive snaps, Pass: 25 - 39 - 250 - 3 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 4 - -3 - 0
Rivers had a rough start to his afternoon. He tossed a pick-6 on his second pass attempt of the afternoon on a pass that sailed over the head of Keenan Allen, and opened the game 0-4 overall. But he quickly rebounded from the poor start to complete 25 of his next 35 passes, including three touchdowns. After the Chargers fell behind early, he engineered a drive with back to back perfect passes to each sideline, one to Allen and one to Antonio Gates. When they got near the goal line, he found a wide open Gates in the corner of the end zone for the easy score. Rivers connected with Austin Ekeler for his second scoring play, this one a strike thrown perfectly in stride to connect from 22 yards out. Ekeler was lined up out wide, and Rivers just dropped it right over the defender for the score. Rivers then found Melvin Gordon on the two point conversion attempt (kicker Caleb Sturgis had earlier missed an extra point). In the second half, the Chargers drove down to the doorstep of the end zone. Rivers rolled out and fired a pass to Gordon, but it was too low and he was unable to bring it in. If it had been thrown higher and in stride, it was an easy touchdown. But it was rendered moot, because two plays later those same tow connected for a touchdown. Gordon was left alone near the sideline, so Rivers fired a bullet pass in his direction and Gordon did the rest walking through some tacklers into the end zone. Rivers didn't engineer any other touchdown drives, but he did complete a pass to Mike Williams in a lot of traffic that really exemplified the accuracy of Rivers. No defenders were even looking at the ball, but he snuck it in between multiple players for a nice 15-yard gain to keep a drive alive. It was reported early in the second half that starting OL Russell Okung was questionable to return with a groin injury. He did not return, and no further update was given on his condition.

RB Melvin Gordon, 49 offensive snaps, Rush: 15 - 104 - 0, Rec: 7 - 55 - 1 (10 targets)
There wasn't a ton of room for Gordon to work on the ground early on, and the team quickly found itself on the wrong end of a 14-0 game. So the game script called for the Chargers to take to the air a bit more, which was fine for Gordon because he's a heavy part of the passing game. He picked up a swing pass to the sideline for 16 yards, then added a two point conversion late in the first half (again through the air). Rivers hit him to the outside, and Gordon broke one tackle to get into the end zone for the conversion. In the second half, he had perhaps the signature play of this game. He powered over, around, and through multiple 49er defenders en route to a 13-yard pickup on the ground. He broke all kinds of tackles on the play, and simply refused to go down. Unfortunately for Gordon, he dropped a would-be touchdown on the very next play. The throw from Rivers was a bit low and if it had been thrown in stride, it would have been an easy score. As it was, he couldn't bring it in. On the bright side, Rivers looked his way again right away and this time, the two did connect for the touchdown. Much like the two point conversion, he got open out wide and did the rest himself. Later in the half, he tried fighting for extra yardage again near the end zone. While spinning away from a defender, he had the ball jarred loose. It was recovered by the Niners, but one player was touching the sideline prior to touching the ball, so it was ruled to go back to the Chargers. Another big gain by Gordon early in the fourth quarter set up a first and goal. Once again, the Niners appeared to have him dead to rights multiple times. But again, Gordon broke tackle after tackle en route to big yardage. He really dominated on the ground in the second half, slipping tackles, breaking through people, and just showing incredible strength. In the process, he picked up the sixth 100-yard game of his career.

RB Austin Ekeler, 23 offensive snaps, Rush: 8 - 25 - 0, Rec: 2 - 31 - 1 (3 targets)
Ekeler didn't even register his first touch until just over three minutes remained in the first half, but it was a nice upfield cut for a 7-yard gain. He made up for lost time in a hurry, however, by hauling in a 22-yard touchdown late in the first half. He was lined up wide as a receiver, and simply outran his man off the line. Rivers found him perfectly in stride with a bullet pass in the end zone. The defender was sort of holding EKeler's arm as he caught it (not illegally), but he still managed to hang on. He was involved as usual in the second half, and he ended up with 10 total touches from scrimmage despite the limited early work.

WR Keenan Allen, 57 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 63 - 0 (10 targets)
Despite team-leading receptions and receiving yardage, Allen had another relatively quiet game. He had a few short receptions over the middle that didn't go for much yardage, then finally picked up 18 on an out route to the sideline late in the first quarter. In the second half, he was shown walking to the sideline holding his arm in obvious pain following a reception. There were no updates on his condition right away, and he re-entered the game again before the announcers could comment on it. He even threw a block attempt on a pass intended for Antonio Gates, so it would stand to reason that his arm was fine (if that is what he injured in the first place).

WR Tyrell Williams, 55 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 48 - 0 (5 targets)
Williams had just three catches, but two of them had an extremely high degree of difficulty. And one of those will be on every highlight reel you'll see, because it was an absolute circus catch. On the more standard catch of the two, he did a great job of making a tough catch with a defender all over him, and managed to stretch out over the first down marker as he was being tackled to extend a drive. But he saved his very best for last on an incredible second half reception. The defender had his back to Rivers, who floated a pass down the sideline to Williams. Williams jumped, then had to actually reach over the defender's back and also reach down to scoop it up and pull it back over the top of the defender's head to cradle it in for the reception. It kept the drive moving, and was just an outstanding athletic play.

WR Mike Williams, 46 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 15 - 0 (3 targets)
A week after breaking out for two scores, Williams was largely a non-factor in this game. His first catch didn't come until late in the third quarter. He made a tough grab in traffic for 15 yards, taking a big hit right as he caught it with the defender's arm draped in front of him. Later, Williams was targeted on a deep ball down the sideline, but Rivers overthrew him by several yards.

WR Travis Benjamin, 5 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 2 - 0 (1 targets)
Benjamin has been inactive with a foot injury the past few games; he registered just one short catch in this game before exiting after re-aggravating that same injury.