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49ers’ resilience on display without Aiyuk in win over Giants

49ers’ resilience on display without Aiyuk in win over Giants originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The 49ers’ offense has an abundance of riches, so when star wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk was inactive for San Francisco’s Week 3 win over the New York Giants on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium, the offense barely skipped a beat.

Aiyuk missed the game because of a shoulder injury sustained early in the 49ers’ Week 2 win over the Los Angeles Rams, and on short rest, San Francisco opted to proceed with caution and rest the fourth-year wideout.

The 49ers’ offense, however, didn’t skip a beat in its third consecutive 30-point performance to begin the 2023 NFL season.

In speaking to reporters after the win Thursday night, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan admitted he felt Aiyuk’s absence in the offense, but praised fourth- and fifth-string receivers Ronnie Bell and Ray-Ray McCloud III for stepping up in the passing game.

“Yeah, anytime you’re missing a great player – I mean, there’s always an absence, but I thought Ronnie Bell and Ray-Ray played really well,” Shanahan said. “Didn’t give them many targets. They had a couple opportunities, and we got some zero looks so they didn’t get it. But there was no play in the game where I can remember that they had a bad play. So, they did their job.”

Like Shanahan, 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey credited the depth at the wide receiver position and the team’s overall resilience for its continued success without Aiyuk.

“I think it’s the resilience and the depth that we have and when somebody’s down being able to step up and make plays when your name is called,” McCaffrey told reporters Thursday. “Obviously, Ronnie did a great job. So you miss B.A., he’s a hard guy to replace, he brings so much to our offense with the ball in his hands and without. But when you have guys that learn from guys like B.A., it’s nice to plug them in and not miss a beat.”

The 49ers never want to be without one of their best players, but perhaps nobody benefitted more from Aiyuk’s absence than wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who hauled in six receptions for 129 yards and one touchdown as the 49ers’ leading pass catcher.

Samuel, of course, wished his position mate was playing, but understood why Aiyuk was inactive and also was impressed with the offense’s next-man-up approach.

“We love Brandon, and we want him to be out there as much as possible, but I didn’t think we were going to risk putting him out there, putting him in danger,” Samuel explained postgame. “It’s kind of like a next-man-up situation.

“For me, it was kind of different, because I was talking to Brandon last night. I was like, ‘Bro, this is my first time being in the huddle without you.’ It kind of felt weird during practice, but it was good to get the win as a team.”

Aiyuk’s absence is not expected to be long-term, and the decision to hold him out of Thursday’s game will give him extra time to recover for the 49ers’ Week 4 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday.

If he were to return after missing just one game, San Francisco’s star-studded offense would be firing on all cylinders against arguably the worst team in the league.

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