Deebo Samuel backs up big words with big plays in 49ers romp

PHILADELPHIA -- Roughly 30 minutes after he decimated the Philadelphia Eagles with a series of game-changing lightning bolts, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel stood at a podium dressed in all black, with only the sparkling chain around his neck offering any sort of color contrast.

For fans of the movie "Friday," there's always something to be said about Deebo and chains, but this was a different look. It begged the question that was eventually asked to the player who had fired more than his share of trash talk at the Eagles over the past 10-plus months and stood by every word when asked about it last week: Have you fully embraced the villain role?

"No man, it's just an outfit," Samuel said, a smile creeping across his face. "I was like, I'm just gonna go all black and didn't know about other players wearing all black. ... It all clicked and the fit came together well."

Whether the color palette was intentional for Samuel, left tackle Trent Williams and others is immaterial. What mattered is that on Sunday, Samuel certainly not only embraced but reveled in the heel role he'd already established for himself in Philadelphia.

In San Francisco's 42-19 demolition of the NFC-leading Eagles, Samuel seamlessly pivoted from running his mouth to just running. And running. And running some more.

By the time it was over, Samuel had seven touches from scrimmage for 138 yards, an average of 19.7 yards, and the first three-touchdown game of his career. He's the first 49ers wide receiver with three touchdowns in a game since Terrell Owens in 2001.

"Deebo is one of the best football players I've ever seen," linebacker Fred Warner said. "Performances like that don't surprise me. It's only a matter of time before he does pop off like that. People were saying things about things that he may have said before the game, but I think it's safe to say his actions spoke louder than his words."

In the days and weeks following the Niners' loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, Samuel offered plenty of fodder for the Eagles' bulletin board. On Sunday, FOX reported that Eagles coach Nick Sirianni showed videos of Samuel and some of his teammates' trash talking as a method of motivation.

But Samuel never has been worried about how opponents might use his words against him. History would suggest that Samuel plays his best when he's engaged in some pregame verbal sparring. It has happened repeatedly against NFC West division rivals the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks.

"I ain't going to lie," Samuel said. "I was in that zone like all week long. Of course, they beat us in the NFC Championship. ... Talking trash, I mean, it's part of the game. Hopefully nobody took it to heart because it's all fun and games at the end of the day."

Sunday was undoubtedly fun for the 49ers and Samuel, who is fully recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered in Week 6 against the Cleveland Browns and looks like he has moved well beyond the "sluggish" season he had in 2022.

After signing his three-year, $73.5 million extension in August 2022, Samuel's production slipped from 1,770 scrimmage yards and 14 touchdowns in 2021 to 864 scrimmage yards and five touchdowns last year.

That drop-off prompted an end-of-season meeting with coach Kyle Shanahan in which Samuel said he'd let his contract impasse distract him from returning in optimal shape. Samuel spent the offseason working to rectify that, even sending pictures to Shanahan as proof of progress.

Look no further than Sunday for evidence that Samuel has regained the speed and acceleration that made him the fulcrum of the Niners' offense in 2021. He hit 20-plus mph on two of his three touchdowns against the Eagles, including 20.45 mph on his 12-yard touchdown run and 20.23 mph on his 46-yard touchdown catch. Those were the third- and fifth-fastest recorded times by a Niners ball carrier this season.

"He's been really close here for a couple of weeks now," Shanahan said. "He got the ball in some good situations and when he does -- when I say good situations, I mean to get 6 to 8 yards and he turns it into what you guys see. He is as good as there is when that ball is in his hands. People don't like to tackle him."

Indeed, Samuel remains one of the NFL's reigning kings of yards after catch. The Eagles entered Sunday's matchup allowing the third-fewest yards after catch per reception in the NFL. Samuel gained 116 yards after the catch in Philadelphia, the second-most in a game in his career, as the Niners racked up 216 yards after the catch, their most in a game this season and the most allowed by the Eagles since Week 1 of 2022.

For his career, Samuel is averaging 9.6 YAC, the highest rate of any receiver with 50-plus receptions, and also has nine career receptions with 40-plus YAC, tied with A.J. Brown for most since both entered the league in 2019.

"Cornerbacks and safeties aren't very excited to tackle him and he knows that," Williams said. "He knows that once he gets that full head of steam, he don't got to bring a lot of finesse to the party. ... Deebo is a special player."

Samuel's outburst had been weeks in the making since his return from that shoulder injury. He had 94 scrimmage yards and a touchdown against Seattle on Thanksgiving, but there was the feeling that more could be in the offing.

In the week leading up to the trip to Philadelphia, teammates acknowledged and embraced that Samuel was, as he put it, "in that zone." Quarterback Brock Purdy said Samuel "had a little something to him" heading into the showdown with the Eagles.

When Sunday arrived, all that was left was for Samuel to carry it over to the field. After plenty of patience while others racked up the yards and touchdowns, it was finally Deebo's turn again.

"I love the fact that he could talk and set the stage and walk into a hostile environment and just thrive," defensive end Nick Bosa said. "And that's what greatness is made of."