The San Francisco 49ers are heading to the playoffs after a dramatic overtime 27-24 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Sealing a playoff trip in overtime is wild enough, but beating a divisional rival is about as storybook as it gets. The Niners needed a victory to keep their season alive and they delivered at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.
After an emotional battle like that, there’s no question there’s a lot on the minds of Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan and his team. Both the coach and his players looked exhausted while speaking to the media, which makes sense considering their season was on the line just minutes earlier.
Shanahan revealed to the Niners universe that he has been genuinely surprised by rookie corner Ambry Thomas this season. Per Cam Inman, Shanahan laid his cards on the table by saying he didn’t think the corner could hang with NFL competition, at least at this point in his career.
“He’s definitely made a believer out of me the second half of this season,” Shanahan said. “I wouldn’t have believed it the way it started off. It sounds harsh. But it took time. When he got his opportunity, he was ready and showed what’s in him.”
Thomas went through a trial by fire, being thrusted into a starting spot in his first year in the league(which we’ll get into more down below.) But on Sunday, Thomas clinched the 49ers’ trip to the playoffs by picking off Rams QB Matthew Stafford in OT.
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Thomas Comes Up Big for 49ers
When the 49ers drafted Thomas in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the idea was to allow him to provide depth and learn his way from the bench. But due to injuries to corners like Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley, he had to step up.
A Pro Football Reference stat that puts Thomas’ early struggles in perspective: the first six times he was targeted in the NFL, he allowed six catches for an average of 12.3 yards per catch. Before the Week 16 matchup against the Tennessee Titans, he had given up 15 catches on 20 targets for 261 yards and two touchdowns.
Not ideal. But the 49ers didn’t have many options, and Thomas was slowly improving. Then in the game in Nashville, he seemingly broke through. He allowed just one catch, and then only allowed two catches for eight yards in coverage against the Houston Texans.
Now, the rookie from Michigan has his first-ever interception, and it came at the perfect time for the Niners.
Kyle Shanahan Looking Forward to Dallas
Shanahan touched on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the Niners defense and his own emotions after the game, but the focus remains the same: next week.
While he’s proud of the way his team battled, he’s also already focusing on the gameplan for the NFC Wild Card round battle against the Dallas Cowboys.
“I know they’ve the [Dallas Cowboys] had a hell of a year and they have really good players and really good coaches,” Shanahan said per Niners Nation. “We’ll enjoy tonight and we’ll get on the film first thing in the morning.”
It will mark the first time the Cowboys and 49ers have met in the playoffs since the NFC Championship in 1995.