CBS had high hopes for Sunday's game between the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots, putting it in its featured afternoon time slot for the majority of the country to watch.
Unfortunately, this game was pretty much decided in the first quarter, as the 49ers dismantled the Patriots 33-6 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
The game highlighted and exposed certain nuances on both ends, which we’ll take a deeper dive into now.
5. Fred Warner is one of the best linebackers in the NFL
After season-ending injuries to DE Nick Bosa and DT Arik Armstead, it was fair to wonder whether the San Francisco defense could hold up without their front four generating the supreme pressure they did last season.
The answer seems to be yes, and a big reason why is the play of LB Fred Warner. CBS analyst Tony Romo called Warner “the best linebacker in the NFL” on a couple of occasions, without hesitation. While that may be hyperbole to some extent, the former BYU standout did play extremely well in this game. Most notably, he probed the middle of the field covering Patriots' wide receivers without much trouble, and picked off New England QB Cam Newton in the second quarter.
4. Deebo Samuel may be the key to the 49ers' season
The second-year wide receiver’s numbers will not blow anyone away this week (5 catches for 65 yards, 3 carries for 7 yards), but his versatility in the 49ers offense arguably makes him the most important player on that side of the ball.
Samuel took a pass from QB Jimmy Garoppolo early in the first quarter for 23 yards into Patriots' territory, and the team never really looked back. He consistently got open for his quarterback and ran with ferocity once the ball was in his hands.
Samuel appears likely to miss games with a hamstring injury suffered towards the end of the game. This will continue to challenge San Francisco’s depth on offense, and it will be interesting to see how they function without him next week.
3. Bill Belichick’s defense couldn’t adjust
It’s a very uncommon sight to see a Bill Belichick-coached defense be consistently out-maneuvered for a full 60 minutes, but that’s exactly what took place on Sunday.
We know that the future Hall of Famer isn’t working with his usual full deck of talent, but NFL fans almost expect the genius to overcome those odds and still find a way to make the Patriots' defense relevant. San Francisco gained 301 yards in the first half, which was impressive, but usually Belichick makes an adjustment to slow down the opposition at in the second half.
That wasn’t the case, as the 49ers marched right down the field on their first drive of the second half, capped off with a touchdown from RB Jeff Wilson. Maybe San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan exorcised his demons from the debilitating loss he suffered as the offensive coordinator of the Falcons in Super Bowl LI against the Patriots.
2. The 49ers' running back machine keeps on chugging
It’s remarkable that a team without its first, second, or third-string running back was able to run for 198 yards against the Patriots' defense. But it really does seem like whoever Kyle Shanahan decides to feature in a given week has a great chance to rush for over 100 yards.
Without Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon, this week it was Jeff Wilson’s time to shine. Through the first three quarters of the game, he was basically getting whatever he wanted, gashing the Patriots defense for 6.6 yards per carry.
Unfortunately for Wilson, he left the game after his third rushing touchdown, and was later diagnosed with a high ankle sprain. If Jamycal Hasty is pressed into starting duty next week, it seems like that probably won’t be a major hindrance for the defending NFC champions.
1. The Patriots have a serious quarterback problem
When Cam Newton was forced to miss the Patriots game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4 due to a positive test for COVID-19, fans saw the alternate universe of what life would be like if Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer was the Patriots' starter, and it was not pretty.
However, since Newton has returned to play the subsequent two games, the offense has not been magically fixed. Two out of his three interceptions on the day could be explained away—49ers LB Fred Warner made a great play on his first one, and the ball ricocheted wildly off of WR Julian Edelman’s hand into the air on the third pick.
His second interception was inexcusable, though. With the Patriots trailing 23-3 with the first half winding down, Newton followed a positive 20-yard completion to WR Jacoby Meyers with a downfield heave that had no chance of being completed, which was gobbled up by Emmanuel Moseley.
It's unclear whether the recent lack of practice time, or perhaps virus recovery is affecting Newton's play, but he won't have much time to lick his wounds as the AFC East leading Buffalo Bills are looking to send the Patriots a message next week.