Photo credit: mercurynews.com
By: Joe Lami
SANTA CLARA — For the first time since 1990, the San Francisco 49ers have started their season 4-0; thanks to a 31-3 Monday Night beatdown of the Cleveland Browns. In 1990, Joe Montana led the Niners to a 10-0 start and a birth in the NFC title game.
They looked like a team destined for greatness on Monday, owning Cleveland on all sides of the ball, led by a stifling defense and a hard run game.
Defensively, the Niners were all over the Browns, as Cleveland couldn’t do anything. The 49ers pass rush made life difficult for Baker Mayfield, who was held to 8 completions on 22 attempts for 100 yards. He also threw two interceptions and was sacked four times.
Second-overall pick, Nick Bosa shined in primetime with his best performance to date. He was all over the place, finishing with two sacks, five QB hits, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
He became the first Niner in 25 years to finish two sacks, a forced fumble, and a recovery.
Bosa earned his revenge on Mayfield, who famously planted an Oklahoma flag in the middle of Ohio State’s Horseshoe when his Sooners’ upset Bosa’s Buckeyes a few years ago. Bosa celebrated a sack by re-creating it on Monday.
The Niners started the night great, forcing Cleveland to punt on their opening possession. The fireworks began from there, as Matt Breida opened the game on an 83-yard gash to the endzone, giving San Francisco an immediate 7-0 lead.
Breida’s run was the fifth-longest in franchise history and the longest run by a Niner since Kaepernick went 90 yards against the Chargers in 2014. His run was clocked at 22.30 MPH by NFL NextGen Stats, the fastest speed reached by any player over the last two seasons.
Breida led San Francisco’s rushing effort that dashed the Browns for 275 yards. He finished with 114 yards on 11 carries. Tevin Coleman returned from injury for 97 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, while Raheem Mostert played clean-up duty in the second half with seven carries for 34 yards.
Breida picked up his second touchdown of the evening later in the first quarter, catching a five-yard pass from Garoppolo to extend the lead to 14-0.
The Niners extended their lead to 21-3 late in the second quarter on a Coleman 19-yard run. The drive was set up again by the defense standing tall in their own red zone with K’Waun Williams picking off Mayfield on the goal line and returning it to midfield.
Jimmy Garoppolo threw his lone touchdown in the third quarter, finding George Kittle from 20 yards out to make it 28-3. Garoppolo quietly threw two touchdowns on 20-of-29 for 181 yards, doing just enough to complement the extraordinary run game. Through four games, Garoppolo has thrown seven touchdowns to seven different receivers.
Kittle was his primary target, bringing in six balls for 70 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
The one dark spot for the 49ers was their kicking game. Robbie Gould continues to struggle this year, and on Monday night, he missed three more field goals. Missing from 47 and 52 yards, he was also blocked from 32 yards out.
Even more concerning, Kyle Juszczyk exited the game with an apparent knee sprain. He’s scheduled for an MRI on Monday, and the 49ers are hopeful it won’t be a long-term injury. The fullback has been an under-the-radar bright spot for San Francisco, setting up most of the Niners’ big runs.
Now on a short week, the Niners face their biggest test yet this Sunday in Los Angeles as they take on the Rams. It will be intriguing to see how this offense operates without one of their key cogs in the backfield if Juszczyk is unable to go.