The San Francisco 49ers have rediscovered their identity.
That would be the team’s lethal run game that helped them get to the Super Bowl during the 2019 season. After starting this season 3-5, the 49ers have won three in a row, including a 34-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings to put San Francisco in the middle of the playoff mix.
The win on Sunday afternoon was the 49ers’ first home regular-season afternoon win since Nov. 17, 2019, when they came back to beat the Arizona Cardinals.
The 49ers have running back Elijah Mitchell to thank for ending that drought. The rookie sixth-round pick from Louisiana ran 27 times for 133 yards and a touchdown after missing last week’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars with an injury. In the last game Mitchell played against the Rams, he ran 27 times for 91 yards.
“Middle of the week I realized that I would be able to go,” Mitchell said of his injury. “I had a little pain (during the game), but it turned out alright.”
While Mitchell was calm in the postgame comments, his teammates were ecstatic and had high praise for him.
“Elijah is an all-around back,” 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel said. “He catches the ball out of the backfield and plays like he’s 240 pounds and runs like he’s 190 pounds. He’s got the speed, the physicality and mindset. He’s just a great overall back.”
49ers tight end George Kittle added, “He is very physical. He runs downhill and he makes quick decisions. He doesn’t second-guess himself, he just runs downhill. … He has impressed everybody. … Elijah hits the roles just like Raheem (Mostert) does.”
Coming into the season, it was uncertain where Mitchell would fit in with Raheem Mostert and rookie third-round pick Trey Sermon presumably ahead of him on the depth chart. When Mostert got hurt and Sermon was inactive in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, Mitchell was pushed into the starting role. Mitchell finished that day with 104 yards rushing. He has gone over 100 yards four times in eight games.
What has impressed 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan about Mitchell is his vision.
“I would say that is his number one attribute,” the coach said. “He seems to hit the right spot almost every time.“
With six games to go, the 49ers sit in sole possession of sixth place in the NFC. If the 49ers run the ball like they have the last month, the team could be playing meaningful football in January.