3 Takeaways from 49ers' Week 17 Win

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2022

3 Takeaways from 49ers' Week 17 Win

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    John Hefti/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers aren't in the postseason just yet. However, after withstanding the Houston Texans on Sunday, the 49ers control their playoff destiny. If San Francisco can beat the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18, it will be in the playoffs.

    Sunday's game wasn't necessarily pretty, but Houston hasn't quite been the pushover that its four-win record might suggest. The Texans embarrassed the Los Angeles Chargers the previous week, and like the 49ers, the Chargers are on the brink of the postseason.

    With rookie quarterback Trey Lance in for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo (thumb), the 49ers got enough from their offense, while the defense pitched a shutout in the second half. The 49ers aren't likely to brag about handling the Texans at home, but this was a must-win game—and San Francisco won it.

    The Niners now face a win-and-in scenario in the final week of the regular season. Here's what we learned during the team's 23-7 win in Week 17.

The 49ers Can Win with Lance, and They May Have To

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    The 49ers were forced to start Lance because of Garoppolo's thumb injury. The 30-year-old has a torn ligament and a bone chip in his throwing hand, and while he may play in the postseason, he is expected to need surgery sooner than later.

    "In fact, sources say that Garoppolo is expected to have surgery following the season to repair the torn ligament and chipped bone in the thumb on his throwing hand," NFL Media's Ian Rapoport wrote. "In rare times, these types of injuries can heal on their own, but sources say this is not the type that can. He is expected to make a full recovery."

    The good news is that Lance showed that he can operate Kyle Shanahan's offense effectively. He wasn't asked to carry the load often, but he finished 16-of-23 for 249 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Lance also rushed for 31 yards.

    While Lance lacks experience, he can create big plays with his arm and with his legs. The 49ers are going to face stiffer competition than Houston in the coming weeks, but at least they know that they can win a critical game with the rookie under center.

Elijah Mitchell Is Back at Precisely the Right Time

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Aiding Lance on Sunday—and possibly in the coming weeks, should Lance continue to start—was rookie runner Elijah Mitchell. The Louisiana-Lafayette product had been out since Week 13 because of a knee injury but stormed back in a big way against Houston.

    Mitchell finished with 119 rushing yards, 5.7 yards per carry, two receptions, 11 receiving yards and a touchdown. This marked Mitchell's fifth 100-yard game of the year.

    According to Nick Wagoner of ESPN, Mitchell now holds San Francisco's rookie rushing record with 878 yards.

    Mitchell is returning at a critical time for San Francisco—not only because of the impending playoffs but also because of Garoppolo's injury. While Lance is capable of making plays, the 49ers will want to make things easier on him with a strong ground game.

    San Francisco can get a strong ground game out of Mitchell, Lance and wideout Deebo Samuel, who logged another seven carries Sunday (albeit for 19 yards). We'll find out in a week if that run game is enough to overcome the Rams and rush into the postseason.

San Francisco Should Be Confident Going into Week 18

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    The 49ers would prefer to already be in the postseason, but they have to be happy with a win-and-in opportunity. San Francisco was 3-5 at the halfway point and has lost four of five divisional games this season.

    If the 49ers had to face an NFC West opponent to wrap the season, they should be glad it's not the Seattle Seahawks or the Arizona Cardinals. San Francisco has lost twice to each of those foes, but it thumped the Rams 31-10 in Week 10.

    In fact, the 49ers have beaten the Rams five straight times. While it may be inaccurate to say the team has figured out Sean McVay and the L.A. offense, head coach Kyle Shanahan does have a recent knack for knocking off the Rams.

    With the 12-4 Rams still chasing the division title, the rematch is going to present San Francisco with a tough challenge. However, the 49ers can go into the road contest with the confidence needed to beat what some would consider a superior opponent.

    The 49ers can still get into the postseason with a loss, but that would require the 8-8 New Orleans Saints losing to the 7-9 Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. San Francisco's most direct path to the postseason will be beating the Rams as they did on Nov. 15.