San Francisco 49ers corner K'Waun Williams intercepted Dak Prescott deep in the third quarter Sunday, setting up the Niners with a chance to stretch their lead to double-digits. Directly following the INT, receiver Deebo Samuel demanded the ball in a pivotal spot.
"Deebo's been a stud all year, as everyone knows, and, right before he went out there, he just mouthed something to me, which I kind of guessed was, 'Give me the ball,'" coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game. "When I look at him talking that way, it's extremely motivating, and he makes it a lot easier to call plays."
Shanny did indeed give Samuel the ball, and the WR took the handoff for a 26-yard TD to push the lead to 23-7. The score ended up being the difference in the Niners' 23-17 victory.
After the contest, Deebo confirmed he told the coach he wanted the pigskin.
"That's absolutely right," Samuel said. "When K'Waun got the interception, I looked at Kyle and said, 'Hey, just give me the ball. I got you.' I went out there, and next play, I scored."
It was a TD that displayed Samuel's still burgeoning ability out of the backfield. The WR took the handoff, gained the edge, showed the patience of a running back to let the defense flow past him, then stuck his foot in the ground and got upfield, looking like Barry Sanders picking his way through defenders. Once he found open space, the afterburners kicked in, and he blasted past the defensive backs' angles for a score.
"It was just a little sweep in front of Jimmy -- but they kind of overplayed it, and I played it kind of slow, saw the cutback, and just hit it," Samuel explained. "They were overplaying it a lot today. It was just a matter of me seeing the hole and hitting it as fast as I can."
Shanahan noted that Deebo's vision in open space created the big play out of what could have been a meager gain.
"It was unbelievable," the coach said. "It's not at all where we thought the play would go, where it's designed to go. But when you've got a guy out there who's running, he's very tough, he's got the skillset, and he sees the (field) very well, usually he goes outside. He stopped, reversed the field, and if he gets a lane, he's running through everyone's arm tackles."
Samuel embodied a tough Niners team that bullied the Cowboys on Sunday. It felt like every time he touched the ball -- particularly out of the backfield -- he was unstoppable.
Deebo generated 110 scrimmage yards and the TD (a career-high 10 carries, 72 rush yards, one TD, 3 receptions, 38 receiving yards).
He became the second WR with 50-plus rush yards and at least one rush TD in a playoff game since 1950; Green Bay's James Lofton had one rush for a 71-yard TD in the 1982 Divisional Round at Dallas.
Samuel has been the engine of the Niners' offense down the stretch, averaging 108.4 scrimmage yards per game and netting 10 TDs since Week 10 while averaging 7.0 carries per game.
"I had a pretty good view of it," quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said of Samuel's TD. "He had another gear. He always does. It shocks me, it shocks defenses when they see it for the first time. He played his ass off today, he really did. Everyone did. It started with the O-line; they set the tone up front. The rest of the skill guys just followed in suit."
The Niners now take that tone to Green Bay to face the top-seeded Packers in the Divisional Round on Saturday night in prime time.