Finding statistics that illustrated the 49ers’ first win of the season was easy on Sunday.
A team that had been leading the league in punts did so just once in its 31-21 win over the New York Giants and it came late in the fourth quarter. An offense that struggled to convert on third downs all season was good on eight of 12 tries. The most bruised, broken and beat-up squad in the NFL suffered only one minor injury, to its third-string running back.
But perhaps most significant of all was this: Quarterback C.J. Beathard wasn’t sacked once during the game.
It was the first time the 49ers could make that claim all season and certainly since the rookie quarterback – whom some had begun calling “C.J. Battered” – took over the starting role last month.
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The result was his most efficient and impressive outing in four tries. Beathard had completed barely more than half his passes heading into Sunday but was 19 of 25 – 76 percent – for 288 yards and two touchdowns against the Giants.
His top play came midway through the second quarter with San Francisco facing third and long from its own 17-yard line, a no-hope scenario for the offense this season.
This time, however, everything worked as planned.
Running back Carlos Hyde and tight end Garrett Celek stepped forward to head off two blitzing Giants defenders. New York’s deep safety stepped forward to cut off the intermediate route. And Beathard found Marquise Goodwin in single coverage – rare this season – streaking downfield and launched the ball into the air.
“The O-line gave me a bunch of time to get it up to Marquise, a speedster who we knew could get over the top of any coverage,” Beathard said. “He’s the fastest guy in the league. I just had to put it out there for him. He did a great job of breaking the tackle.”
The result was an 83-yard touchdown, the longest 49ers score since Tim Rattay and Brandon Lloyd connected on an 89-yard score early in the 2005 season.
Beathard also threw a 47-yard touchdown to Celek and scored an 11-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter as the 49ers pulled away on the scoreboard.
He aggravated a pre-existing issue when his thumb got sandwiched between his facemask and the ground when he tumbled over the goal line, and San Francisco’s high-profile backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, immediately began warming up.
Beathard, however, wasn’t about to be stuck on the sideline during the final moments of his team’s first win of 2017.
“I wanted to be in there when we were in the victory formation,” he said.
League observers have eyed Nov. 26, a week after the 49ers’ upcoming bye, as the natural point to insert Garoppolo, for whom the 49ers traded a second-round pick, into the starting lineup. Shanahan insisted no decisions have been made at this point.
“That’s not my plan,” he said of Garoppolo becoming the team’s post-bye starter. “I don’t have a plan yet. There’s no way anything you guys hear reported could be accurate because I just told you guys our plan, which is we’re going to evaluate when it gets to that time, so depends where Jimmy is at at that time.”
Beathard’s clean jersey was due to improved protection and because he went through his progressions more quickly than in his earlier starts. But Shanahan also seemed to find a better play-calling rhythm that kept New York’s defense from being the aggressor.
He had wanted a balanced run-pass ratio this season but entered Sunday’s contest with that ratio badly off-kilter – 366 to 199 in favor of the pass. Against the Giants it was 33 to 25 in favor of the run, and Shanahan found a flow that had been missing.
Of course, Shanahan’s first win and Beathard’s big outing came against a Giants team ranked 29th in passing defense and one that had sacked opposing quarterbacks just 13 times all season, second worst in the NFL.
The 49ers didn’t seem to care much about the quality of their opponent.
Shanahan received a small dousing of Gatorade in the closing seconds, then high-fived fans as he ran off the field. General manager John Lynch gave a postgame speech in the locker room and veteran Joe Staley said that in terms of euphoria, the win rivaled that of the 49ers’ 2012 conference championship triumph.
Halting the worst start in franchise history tends to trigger that sentiment.
“When you lose nine in a row you learn to savor the moments and enjoy these,” Shanahan said. “It was tough work for us to get our first win and we got it. I think the guys knew how much it meant to me and I knew how much it meant to them. I think we’re a pretty close team and I think we’ve gotten closer through adversity. I hope this can make us better through adversity also.”