What we learned as 49ers' defense steps up in win vs. Chargers


SANTA CLARA — After a rough start on both sides of the ball, the 49ers got rolling in the second half against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The 49ers completed the sweep of their three games against teams stationed in Southern California with a 22-16 victory over the Chargers on Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium.

Quarterback Justin Herbert led the Chargers on an easy game-opening touchdown drive. The 49ers’ defense kept them out of the end zone over the final 51 1/2 minutes of the game.

Talanoa Hufanga clinched the game with an interception with less than a minute to play.

The 49ers (5-4) now hit the road. The team will travel to practice in the elevation of Colorado Springs during the week to get acclimated for the Mexico City, where they will face the Arizona Cardinals next Monday night.

But, first, here’s a look at three takeaways from their game against the Chargers (5-4):

49ers turning into a second-half team

The 49ers gained a game on the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West standing with the come-from-behind victory about 12 hours after the Seahawks lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Munich, Germany.

The Seahawks still lead the division with a 6-4 record, while the 49ers improved to 5-4 with their second victory in two games over a team from Los Angeles.

The 49ers turned to the running game, and Jimmy Garoppolo helped the team keep a couple of big drives along with third-down conversions.

The 49ers took their first lead of the game on Christian McCaffrey’s 2-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter for a 19-16 lead.

Garoppolo completed 19 of 28 pass attempts for 240 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.

But the 49ers, as expected, relied heavily on their run game.

The 49ers gained 157 yards on 41 rushing attempts, including a last-snap Garoppolo kneel-down for minus-1 yard.

Elijah Mitchell returned after missing seven games with a knee sprain. He led the 49ers with 89 yards rushing on 18 carries. McCaffrey added 38 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

Greenlaw ejected after hit deemed illegal

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw was penalized, but the Chargers might have received the bigger short-term penalty.

On a third-and-6 play from the 49ers’ 40-yard line, Herbert took off running. Greenlaw made a helmet-to-helmet hit on Herbert at the end of the 5-yard gain.

Greenlaw was penalized for unnecessary roughness, and he was ejected from the game because his hit on Herbert was judged to be flagrant.

While Greenlaw was forced to head to the locker room, Herbert was removed from the game in order to be evaluated for a possible head injury.

Backup quarterback Chase Daniel entered for the final three plays of the first half. He twice threw incomplete and was sacked by Jordan Willis on third down.

Cameron Dicker came on for a 40-yard field goal to give the Chargers a 16-10 lead at halftime.

Herbert was cleared and returned to action in the second half, but the Chargers settled for three points instead of the touchdown that had a better chance of happening with Herbert at quarterback.

Slow start coming off bye week

The 49ers played their best half of football heading into the bye week.

They did not carry over that momentum two Sundays later.

The 49ers’ offense has been a lot more about “potential” than it has been about “potent” — even with a long list of playmakers on that side of the football.

After steamrolling the Los Angeles Rams in the second half of a 31-14 victory in Week 8, all the talk was about the 49ers’ limitless number of offensive playmakers. The 49ers have yet to show that offensive explosiveness on a consistent basis.

The 49ers opened with a 14-play, 67-yard drive that netted them just three points.

Then, the rest of the first half was horrendous.

Brandon Aiyuk fumbled on the first play of the 49ers’ next drive after a 19-yard reception.

That was followed by consecutive three-and-out possessions. Mitch Wishnowsky’s punt was deflected, which set up the Chargers’ second field goal of the game and a 13-3 lead in the second quarter.

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The 49ers finally got something going on their final drive of the first half.

Garoppolo hit George Kittle for 21 yards and Ray-Ray McCloud for 33 yards.

Garoppolo took it the final yard for his seventh rushing touchdown of his career.

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