Arik Armstead became an easy target for criticism in Week 7.
The Indianapolis Colts were in town and many were quick to analyze the 49ers’ 2019 decision to trade DeForest Buckner and sign Armstead to a five-year, $85 million contract. Buckner was named the Colts’ team MVP in 2020 while Armstead’s on-field production didn’t quite match his big paycheck.
Armstead has changed the narrative in the second half of the season since moving inside to defensive tackle full-time. Once the 49ers learned Javon Kinlaw was out for the year, they stopped half-stepping with Armstead and defined his role. He has flourished ever since, anchoring the defensive line from the inside while Nick Bosa wreaks havoc on the outside.
Armstead delivered arguably the finest performance of his career in Saturday’s scintillating 13-10 win over the Packers, sacking Aaron Rodgers twice in monumental fourth-quarter situations.
“I don’t wanna go home,” Armstead said.
The first sack came on a 3rd-and-goal situation from the 49ers 8-yard-line.
The second sack preceded Jordan Willis’ iconic punt block that led touchdown.
“Arik’s one of the best players in the league,” said Bosa, who notched two sacks of his own. “He’s starting to show it here in the playoffs. Two of the most crucial-moment sacks you could have.”
As Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee noted, Armstead’s recent production has been especially clutch.
Armstead still provides a pass-rushing presence despite lining up closer to center these days. The sacks are eye-catching, but veteran safety Jimmie Ward said Armstead deserves credit for his dirty work, too.
"Everybody's looking for the sacks when you think about d-linemen," Ward said. "He's one of the reasons that teams can't run the ball on us. He's big, you can't move up. He's the ultimate run-stopper."
It might feel like the 2019 season again, only Armstead is occupying Buckner’s old role. But Armstead said there’s a different vibe around this squad. The 49ers have won three straight epic road games but need one more road victory to get back to football’s biggest stage.
“I was just talking to some of my teammates about how easy that year was,” Armstead said. “We kind of ran through people and got to the Super Bowl, but this is a different road. A lot of adversity. But I think it’s making it even more special.”