49ers vs. Chargers score, takeaways: San Francisco’s defense shuts down Justin Herbert, LA offense

The San Francisco 49ers are above .500 on the season at 5-4 after taking down the Los Angeles Chargers, 22-16. Kyle Shanahan’s team found itself trailing at the half, but enjoyed a dominant final two quarters where the offense put up 12 points while the defensive side of the ball left LA scoreless en route to the win.

San Francisco took the lead midway through the fourth quarter as a goal-line touchdown by Christian McCaffrey capped off a 14-play, 77-yard drive. After grabbing hold of the lead for the first time in the game, the defense continued to shut down Justin Herbert and the rest of the Chargers offense, allowing just 10 yards of total offense on their final three drives and picking off Herbert to seal the game.

Garoppolo finished with 240 yards through the air on 19 of 28 passing. Brandon Aiyuk was his go-to target, catching six of his seven targets for 84 yards. Meanwhile, Elijah Mitchell led the Niners rushing attack, notching 89 yards on the ground at a 4.9-yards-per-carry clip. As for McCaffrey, he logged 77 yards from scrimmage along with that rushing touchdown.

On the other hand, Herbert completed 21 of 35 for 196 yards, a touchdown and an interception. DeAndre Carter led all Chargers pass-catchers with 64 yards through the air.

For a more detailed breakdown of how this game unfolded, check out our main takeaways below.

Why the 49ers won

San Francisco seemed to find its footing in the beginning of the second half as it got back to its roots and started to dominate on the ground. Of the 49ers’ 65 yards on the 12-play field goal drive to open up the third quarter, 47 of them came in the running game and that theme continued for the rest of the game. As a club, they rushed for 106 yards in the second half compared to the 51 yards they had on the ground through the first two quarters.

As the offense began to impose its will physically over the Chargers, so did the defense. The Niners pass rush started to get home, making things extremely difficult for Justin Herbert. While Herbert wasn’t sacked in the second half, he was routinely on the move, flushed out of the pocket and particularly struggled to move the chains. After allowing LA to convert five third-down attempts in the first half, the 49ers allowed just one such conversion on five attempts in the second half.

Why the Chargers lost

Los Angeles got off to a hot start, needing just seven plays to move 75 yards down the field to score a touchdown on the opening drive. However, they were never able to recreate that spark offensively for the rest of the game. Even when they were given a short field thanks to a Brandon Aiyuk fumble at the end of the first quarter, they couldn’t take full advantage of it. After getting the ball back at the San Francisco 32-yard line, they could only travel 3 yards on four plays and needed to settle for a field goal. LA had two other drives on the night that went as far as the 49ers’ 7-yard line and 20-yard line, respectfully. Both times they were held to a field goal. Those offensive issues were only highlighted even more in the second half where they punted three times, had a turnover on downs and threw an interception to end the day. That level of execution offensively simply won’t win you many games in the NFL.

Defensively, the Chargers did end up getting pushed around for 387 yards (208 in the second half), but Brandon Staley’s unit was able to make stops and did give the offense chances to hang in this game. They just couldn’t play a standard level of complementary football.

Turning point

The Niners started to pull away in the second half after they gained momentum in the ground game. After putting together scoring drives on two of their previous three possessions, a 14-play, 77-yard touchdown drive not only swung the momentum in this game, but the scoreboard as well. While the ground game was the main point of attack on the night for the 49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo did make a number of big-time conversions on the drives, moving the chains through the air three times on third down. That included a couple of third-and-longs, headlined by a third-and-10 conversion to Brandon Aiyuk for 24 yards that set up a goal-line touchdown by Christian McCaffrey that gave them the lead for the first time all night.

After taking the lead, San Francisco’s defense slammed the door shut, immediately forcing a three-and-out that traveled just 3 yards. Then, they forced a turnover on downs and finally picked off Herbert with less than a minute left in regulation.

Top play

Even in defeat, Justin Herbert flashed why he is widely considered to be one of the up-and-coming elite quarterbacks in the NFL. The degree of difficulty on some of his throws are only outmatched by how effortlessly he makes them look.

An example of that came in the second quarter of this matchup when he dropped back on a second-and-10 play from the San Francisco 34-yard line. Herbert had pressure coming from his right and in his face, which forced him to slide his body left. As he faded left, he fired a bullet to DeAndre Carter who was streaking to the right side of the field and fit the ball into the tightest of windows. Carter ended up bringing that pass all the way to the 49ers’ 2-yard line, but the Chargers ultimately had to settle for a field goal on that drive. Nevertheless, this was an outstanding throw by Herbert.

What’s next

From here, the 49ers will gear up for an international matchup with the Arizona Cardinals that’ll take place at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City next Monday night. As for the Chargers, they’ll head back to SoFi Stadium and await the Kansas City Chiefs for an AFC West showdown in prime time.

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