49ers observations: NFC playoffs in sight with 31-13 win vs. Falcons

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What we learned as 49ers take big step toward playoffs with win originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SANTA CLARA — All the 49ers needed Sunday was a businesslike victory over the Atlanta Falcons, a team trying to make a convincing case as a serious playoff contender.

The 49ers needed a victory any way they could get it and that much they accomplished at Levi’s Stadium.

The 49ers featured a balanced offense and the defense came up with some impressive stops as the club took a major step toward landing a berth in the NFC playoffs with a 31-13 victory over the Falcons in Week 15.

Here are three takeaways from the 49ers’ victory:

49ers showcase balanced offense

When the 49ers are sailing along, the running game is the dominant portion of the offense.
But the 49ers’ word of the day was “balance.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan goes into most games anticipating a 50-50 split between run and pass.

On Sunday, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the passing game found plenty of success going against the Falcons’ defense. And the run game took care of its end of the bargain, too.
Garoppolo completed 18 of 23 passes for 235 yards. He threw one touchdown pass.

And Jeff Wilson Jr., starting in place of Elijah Mitchell, had his best game of the season with 110 yards and one touchdown on 21 rushing attempts.

At the time the 49ers took a 31-13 lead on Garoppolo’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings, they had 21 run plays and 20 passes. The 49ers converted on five of their seven third downs.

In the first half, Garoppolo completed 11 of 13 passes for 170 yards. Tight end George Kittle had 65 yards on four receptions.

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel continued his dual-threat role, as he scored on a 10-yard touchdown run late in the first half for a 17-10 lead.

Earlier, fullback Kyle Juszczyk found his way into the end zone on a nifty 6-yard scoring run. 

Defense covers for special teams

The 49ers’ defense came through at the most important times.

The Falcons had drives stopped at the 1-, 4-, 8- and 1-yard lines. The defense stopped Atlanta three times on fourth down. Another time, the Falcons settled for a field goal.

The 49ers have had their issues on special teams, and that continued on the first two kick returns of the game.

JaMycal Hasty fumbled the opening kickoff, and the Falcons recovered at the 14-yard line.

It looked as if Hasty gift-wrapped the Falcons a seven-point lead when Cordarrelle Patterson was awarded a touchdown on a first-down run at the 1-yard line. But the play was overturned upon review.

The 49ers’ defense put together a goal line stand to keep the game scoreless and prevent the Falcons from gaining any kind of momentum early in the game.

Linebacker Fred Warner was in pass coverage on an incomplete pass; Arik Armstead made the stop on Patterson for no gain; and on fourth down, Armstead applied pressure to Matt Ryan while Jaquiski Tartt had the coverage on an incomplete pass to Kyle Pitts.

Hasty had another miscue later in the first quarter when a short kickoff landed in front of him near the sideline and bounced off his facemask and out of bounds.

After Nick Bosa registered his 15th sack of the season and forced a fumble that Fred Warner recovered on the first drive of the second half, the 49ers had allowed just 53 net yards on Ryan’s 17 dropbacks.

Ryan finally got things going, as the Falcons tried to exploit the matchups against cornerbacks Josh Norman and rookie Ambry Thomas.

For the game, Ryan completed 19 of 32 pass attempts for 236 yards with one touchdown pass. He was also sacked three times.

Playoff implications of the win

All games take on greater significance at this late stage in the season, but this one was particularly important.

The 49ers knew going into the game they would hold an 88-percent chance of making the playoffs with a victory over the Falcons. A loss would drop their chances to 31 percent.

Likewise, the Falcons’ chances would increase to 40 percent with a victory and fall to only 2 percent with a loss.

The victory improves the 49ers’ record to 8-6 on the season with three weeks remaining.

The 49ers finish the regular season with games at Tennessee (Thursday night), vs. Houston and at the Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers likely need only one victory the rest of the way to clinch one of the NFC’s three wild-card spots.

After an early season stretch that included four consecutive losses, the 49ers were in grave danger of not making the postseason.

Now, with five wins in their past six games, the 49ers are looking more and more like a playoff team.

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