BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The 49ers overcame a sluggish start against one of the NFL’s weakest teams to keep their playoff chances alive Sunday afternoon with a 23–7 win over the Houston Texans at Levi’s Stadium.
With Trey Lance getting just his second NFL start in place of the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco was unable to put any points on the board until finally getting a 37-yard Robbie Gould field goal with just three seconds remaining in the first half to go into the locker room trailing 7–3. But the 49ers and Lance, with the help of 119 rushing yards from Eli Mitchell, took control of the game in the second half when it mattered most.
San Francisco took their first lead of the game on a 8-yard touchdown pass from Lance to Mitchell early in the third. The rookie quarterback then further insured his first win as a starter in his young career when he connected with Deebo Samuel on a 45-yard strike for a touchdown five minutes into the final quarter to put the Niners up 17-7 before Gould added two field goals for the final score.
The win helped the Niners (9-7) solidify their grip one of the three NFC Wild Cards spots, but the team still needs a win against the Rams in their season finale, or a loss by the Saints to clinch a playoff spot.
Lance finished the day 16-23 for 249 yards, two TD’s and one interception. Mitchell had 21 carries for 119 yards, achieving his fifth 100-yard game in just the tenth game of a rookie season that has now seen him break Vic Washington’s 50-year old 49ers single-season franchise record for the most rushing yards by a rookie (now 878). Brandon Aiyuk had four receptions for 94 yards and Samuel had three catches for 63 yards and a score.
Asked about the difference of starting at home for the first time after an early season loss in Arizona, Lance said ““It was good to be at home. A lot quieter when we’re on offense. But it was good to have George back also and Elijah [Mitchell]. I think, us being at full strength, obviously without Jimmy, helps me out a lot. Gives me a lot of confidence. But I don’t think I felt a whole lot different coming into it. I feel like I’m farther along and I’m continuing to get better with every practice, every rep I take.”
Niners coach Mike Shanahan added, “I think he (Lance) did some real good things, besides the bad interception. I thought he protected the ball real well. That was a big thing going into this game and he did a good job on all those except for one play. I think he was very efficient. That big play at the end was huge. For the most part, he made some pretty good decisions running the ball.”
With their postseason hopes on the line, the Niners will travel to SoFi Stadium in Inglewood to finish the regular season against the Rams next Sunday. San Francisco has won the past five meetings between the clubs. Kickoff is slated for 1:25PM.
he 49ers improved to 4-1 all-time against the Texans, including a 3-0 record at home.
San Francisco has won their last four home games at Levi’s Stadium, the longest home winning streak in a single season in Levi’s Stadium history.
Mitchell is one of just four rookie running backs since 1990 to register 100-or-more rushing yards in at least five of his first ten career games, joining Edgerrin James (1999 – 7 games), Adrian Peterson (2007 – 6 games) and Ezekiel Elliott (2016 – 5 games).
Samuel now has 13 total touchdowns (6 receiving / 7 rushing) on the season, the most by a member of the 49ers since tight end Vernon Davis had 13 in 2013.