On Sunday night, the USC product did his best Troy Polamalu impression by diving to intercept Justin Herbert’s errant desperation throw as time ran out in the fourth quarter.
It was typical of the type of play for which Hufanga has become known in his first season. Now, he’s a crucial piece of the 49ers’ massive defensive puzzle.
On Sunday, Hufanga wasn’t even the only outstanding defensive player for the Niners. Everyone in DeMeco Ryan’s unit seemed to be locked in, from Nick Bosa to Charles Omenihu to Fred Warner. So doing was crucial in the 49ers’ (5-4) 22-16 victory over the tenacious Chargers.
The 49ers’ offense had no trouble moving the ball, but it was unable to score on three of its five red-zone opportunities.
Since Bosa, Hufanga, and the rest of the opposition were wreaking havoc on the other side, that didn’t end up costing them much. By halftime, Herbert and the Chargers had lost the rhythm they had found in the first two quarters. And by the time LA’s half of the scoreboard was updated at the end of the game, it looked like a binary code: two zeroes.
The Sporting News was there at Levi’s Stadium to record every play as it occurred. The complete highlights and final score from Sunday night’s Santa Clara showdown are provided below.
The 49ers’ Victory Over The Chargers Is Clinched By An Interception By Talanoa Hufanga
San Francisco was able to come back and beat the injury-plagued Chargers thanks to an interception by safety Talanoa Hufanga.
With 58 seconds remaining in regulation, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert threw a deep pass to wide receiver Joshua Palmer that was intercepted by former USC star Joe Hufanga, who had previously made a crucial interception in a win over the Rams earlier this season.
Los Angeles was held scoreless in the second half as San Francisco limited the Chargers to just 52 yards of offense.
Losing defensive linemen Otito Ogbonnia (knee) and Christian Covington (pectoral) early in the game was a major setback for the Chargers, who have now dropped two of their last three games.
With a touchdown and an interception, Herbert completed 21 of 35 passes for 196 yards. DeAndre Carter hauled in four passes for 64 yards, and Palmer caught three for 44. It took Austin Ekeler six carries to gain 24 yards.
Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers’ quarterback, was 19-for-28 passing for 240 yards. We were able to hold Christian McCaffrey to just 38 yards on 14 carries, while Elijah Mitchell gained 89 yards on just 18 totes.
The Key To The 49ers’ Victory
The second half saw San Francisco return to its roots and begin to dominate on the ground, suggesting that the team had finally found its footing.
The 49ers gained 65 yards on a 12-play field goal drive to start the third quarter, and they continued to rely heavily on their ground game throughout the rest of the contest, gaining a total of 47 yards on those 12 carries.
They gained 105 rushing yards in the third quarter after only 51 in the first half.
As the Chargers’ offense began to physically dominate them, so did the defense. With the Niner’s pass rush finally getting home, Justin Herbert was in for a tough game.
Even though Herbert didn’t get sacked in the second half, he was constantly on the move, was frequently flushed out of the pocket, and had a hard time moving the chains.
The 49ers’ defense improved greatly in the second half, allowing only one of five third-down conversions for Los Angeles.
Reasons Why The Chargers Fell Short
The Rams wasted no time getting on the board, scoring a touchdown after only seven plays on their opening drive. But they never found that offensive effervescence again in the rest of the game.
They were unable to capitalize on a short field at the end of the first quarter caused by a Brandon Aiyuk fumble. They took over at their own 32-yard line and were only able to advance 3 yards in 4 plays before being forced to kick a field goal.
Two other L.A. drives advanced to the 7- and 20-yard lines of the 49ers’ territory. They were only able to score a field goal each time.
They continued to struggle on offense in the second half, as evidenced by the three punts they attempted, the turnover on downs they committed, and the interception they threw in the final minute of play. An offense with such poor execution won’t win many games in the NFL.
While the Charger’s defense allowed 387 yards of total offense (208 of which came after halftime), Brandon Staley’s group came up with several key stops that kept the game within reach. They simply lacked the ability to play complement football at a high level.
The Best Performance
Despite the loss, Justin Herbert showed why he is widely regarded as a future star quarterback in the NFL. Some of his throws are incredibly difficult, and yet he makes them look simple.
In the second quarter of this game, he had a chance to do so on a second-and-10 from the San Francisco 34-yard line, but instead, he opted to drop back.
Herbert felt pressure on his right and in his face, and he slid his body to the left to avoid it. He was fading to the left when he unleashed a cannon to the right, finding a narrow opening to hit DeAndre Carter streaking down the right side of the field.
Carter ended up bringing that pass all the way to the 2-yard line, but the Chargers still had to settle for a field goal on that drive. And yet, Herbert really showed off his throwing prowess here.
The 49ers will then prepare for their Monday night game against the Arizona Cardinals at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The Chargers will return to SoFi Stadium to prepare for their primetime matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West.
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