Doubts swirled around Isaiah Oliver a couple weeks ago, as the free-agent veteran signee had a rocky preseason and several instances of getting burned by second- and third-stringers in exhibition action.
In Sunday’s 30-23 win over the Los Angeles Rams, Oliver earned his keep.
Oliver played a key role in helping the defense turn its fortunes around in the second half, as he got an interception and took part in two key stops that helped swing the momentum in the 49ers’ favor.
The two NFC West rivals entered the locker room at halftime tied up 17-17. The Rams opened the third quarter with the ball but their drive was stalled after Oliver made a great tackle in space to prevent Kyren Williams from reaching the sticks.
The Niners went 3-and-out on their next drive and were looking for some juice, so Oliver’s one-handed pick came at a good time. The ball bounced off Williams’ hands and Oliver was Johnny On The Spot, securing the interception as the Rams were knocking on the door of the red zone.
“Tips and overthrows, gotta get those,” Oliver told 49ers team reporter Lindsey Pallares after the game. “Just gotta go get the ball in the air. I just saw it pop and reacted to it as fast as I could.”
Oliver’s two clutch plays helped the 49ers stem the tide, as the offense scored the next 10 points to take control of the game. With about 2:30 left in the game and the Niners holding on to a 10-point lead, Oliver also darted into the backfield and blew up a 4th-and-1 rushing attempt, before Nick Bosa made the tackle to kill the drive.
“I thought he was a stud today,” coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game. “I gotta watch the whole tape to get through all of it, but I know he made some huge plays. … Especially with some of our DBs getting banged up throughout the game. Those guys had to step it up because they were all over the place.”
Considering that cornerbacks Ambry Thomas (knee) and Deommodore Lenoir (concussion tests) had to miss some game action, the Niners needed Oliver’s playmaking on Sunday.