49ers aren't dominant, but running game and defense squeeze out win over Chargers

There are times when you see the San Francisco 49ers' talent on display. It might be a big play by Deebo Samuel or Christian McCaffrey, or a big stop for the defense.

It still isn't coming easy, but at least the 49ers got a win Sunday night. The 49ers didn't lead until midway through the fourth quarter but finally broke through and got a 22-16 win against the Los Angeles Chargers to get them over .500. The running game kept wearing on the Chargers and eventually the dam broke.

You can win a lot of games running the ball and playing good defense, and that's what the 49ers did Sunday night. But there's enough talent on the 49ers that they leave you wanting more. The 49ers have been a popular pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl since acquiring McCaffrey, but they haven't played to that level on a consistent basis.

For a long time Sunday night, the Chargers were the better team despite their multiple injuries. The NFC isn't filled with many good teams. The 49ers have the talent to be one of the top teams. We just haven't seen that yet from them, not for a long stretch anyway.

Christian McCaffrey was a big part of the 49ers' offensive plan against the Chargers on Sunday night. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Christian McCaffrey was a big part of the 49ers' offensive plan against the Chargers on Sunday night. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Chargers took early lead

The Chargers started fast. They drove 75 yards and scored on a 32-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Carter on their first possession. The Chargers built a 13-3 lead midway through the second quarter.

The 49ers started to get back in the game in the second half, though they caught a rough break when linebacker Dre Greenlaw was ejected. Justin Herbert was hit from behind, which led to a helmet-to-helmet hit from Greenlaw to Herbert. It looked bad, Greenlaw was penalized and disqualified from the game. Herbert left briefly to be evaluated for a concussion but was cleared to come back in the second half. The Chargers led 16-10 at halftime.

Herbert was back in the second half but the Chargers' offense was stuck for the third quarter. They didn't score. The 49ers got a field goal back to cut Los Angeles' lead to 16-13.

The 49ers kept running it at the Chargers and eventually broke through to take the lead. A catch by Brandon Aiyuk got the 49ers to the 1-yard line, and McCaffrey punched it in for the touchdown and a 49ers lead with 7:54 left.

The way the 49ers' defense was playing, they had to feel good about holding that lead.

49ers ran it well vs. Chargers

The 49ers ran it a lot against the Chargers, which still isn't great against the run. Elijah Mitchell was back and was actually more effective than McCaffrey on the ground. With Deebo Samuel getting a few rushes too, the 49ers had 157 total rushing yards.

The defense was the key. Maybe Herbert was shaken up from the big hit he took from Greenlaw. Whatever the reason, Los Angeles' offense had a tough time in the second half. San Francisco's defense had a big part in it. At their best, the 49ers' defense looks like the best in the NFL. Like the team as a whole, it just hasn't happened consistently.

The Chargers got the ball back just ahead of the two-minute warning, but took over at their 1-yard line under controversial circumstances. The 49ers downed a punt at the 1, but NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay pointed out that the 49ers backpedaled into the end zone and it should have been a touchback. Officials didn't catch that so the Chargers had the ball at the 1.

It's hard to move the ball from your own 1-yard line, and the Chargers started with two incompletions. A third-down completion got 7 yards but on fourth down Herbert threw incomplete under pressure. The 49ers got a field goal after that with 58 seconds left. Herbert threw an interception right after that and the 49ers had the win.

The 49ers are 5-4 and have a shot to get on a roll. Everyone who thinks their talent will emerge and make them Super Bowl contenders might get their wish.