Deebo Samuel plays for 49ers in NFC Championship Game chase

The 49ers are a team known for their relentless toughness, willpower and physicality, and no player exemplifies those traits better. this season than All-Pro receiver Deebo Samuel.

And Samuel will be the most important player on the court for the 49ers when they travel to face 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 freezing Lambeau Field in the divisional round, their lowest statistical yield of the season. But they came out upset over top-ranked Packers with Samuel fingerprints all over it.

Samuel secured San Francisco’s first final down, ensuring Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t get the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead. Samuel took a throw to the right on a third-and-7, ran through a pair of defenders and surged forward for the crucial first down.

“I just knew I was going to hit it full speed ahead and whatever happened then would happen,” Samuel said afterwards.

Three players later, Robbie Gould threw the game-winning field goal from 45 yards, stunning the 79,000-plus crowd and sending San Francisco to its second NFC title game in three seasons.

Deebo Samuel as Running Back

It was another example of Samuel’s value for rushing offense, as he is 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 wide to have 1,000 receiving yards, five receiving touchdowns and at least five rushing.

“He’s an athlete, man,” Jimmy Garoppolo said Saturday. “He does everything.”

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 game-winning 26-yard 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 must-win win over the Rams in the regular season finale.

Over the past two seasons, the 49ers have gone to Samuel in crucial situations when a first down would effectively end games. In an October win over the Rams that season, he converted a third-and-7 with a throw sweep pass — a pop pass that head coach Kyle Shanahan considers a running play — for an 11-yard gain preceding two knees from Garoppolo. Samuel beat defenders insistently in a way he has become known for.

In Dallas two weeks ago, Samuel was called on a third-and-10, and nearly converted the first down in the dying moments, but was ruled inches from the restart. Saturday’s run that set up Gould’s placement was just the latest example.

“It’s really a feeling of confidence. He deserved it,” tight end George Kittle said. “It comes when the stakes are at their highest. Every match he plays at an incredibly high level. He never takes away a match. And whether he gets balls in the running game or the passing game, or not, he’s still going out there and playing at a high level.

Sameul against the Rams

What sets things up for Sunday in LA Samuel has been San Francisco’s most dominant weapon against the Rams in their previous two matchups this season. In 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 needed to win to enter the playoffs, Samuel had 95 receiving yards and 45 rushing with another rushing score. His 43-yard catch and final-minute inside run set up the tying touchdown at the end of regulation before the 49ers won it in overtime.

Samuel, who became a behind-the-scenes leader in his third NFL season, shared the credit with his teammates when asked Saturday why he’s become so effective as a runner.

“It builds the confidence that Kyle has in all 11 guys, from the offensive linemen to Juice (back Kyle Juszczyk) to all the wides, just the physicality,” he said. “In this offense, every guy in the running game is counted for blocking. There’s only one guy left and you have to go out there and make the game.”

But Samuel is stoned, which makes his status worth watching as the week progresses. He limped off the field with an apparent ankle injury last practice against the Packers, although Shanahan said he didn’t notice any leg injuries while celebrating the win with Samuel.

In the first half, Samuel suffered a dart to the shoulder which forced him out of 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 the ball to Samuel in that final third 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 attack.

“Yeah, I think it was that easy a couple 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 much easier to give him the ball.

This story was originally published January 24, 2022 5:30 a.m.

Chris Biderman has covered the 49ers since 2013 and began covering The Sacramento Bee team in August 2018. He previously spent time with the Associated Press and USA TODAY Sports Media Group. A native of Santa Rosa, he earned a degree in journalism from The Ohio State University.

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