SANTA CLARA (CBS SF/AP) — After years of disappointment and bouncing from team to team, San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert may have been the most unlikely choice to emerge Sunday as the hero of the NFC Championship Game.
But behind a potent offensive line and crushing blocks from George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk, Green Bay discovered that Mostert was nearly unstoppable. He rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns and made quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo mostly a spectator.
“Still surreal. You know, I just — I can’t believe that I’m in this position right now and I did the things that I did tonight,” he said after the game. And who could blame him. Even in his dreams who could not have thought such an afternoon was possible.
“And I would like to thank God first and foremost for blessing not only myself but everybody in the organization to be in the position that we’re in, to get the win and to move on to Miami, my home state. And I can’t believe it.”
Mostert had the second-most yards rushing in a playoff game to Eric Dickerson’s 248 for the Rams on Jan. 4, 1986, and was the first player to rush for at least four TDs and 200 yards in a playoff game.
“Truthfully for you to even say that now is like — I’m still shocked,” he said of the coming close to Dickerson’s remarkable performance. “I can’t believe that. Eric Dickerson is the ultimate running back. He’s a guy I look up to, even all the other running backs, even with (former 49ers back) Frank Gore, to even be mentioned with somebody like (Hall of Fame RB) Eric Dickerson, that’s unbelievable.”
He got started when he burst 36 yards on a third-and-8 trap play to open the scoring on San Francisco’s second drive and kept ripping off long runs all afternoon.
Mostert added TD runs of 9 and 18 yards in the second quarter and had 160 yards rushing at the half, becoming the only player in NFL history to rush for at least 150 yards and three TDs in the first half of a playoff game. For good measure, he added a 22-yard TD run in the third quarter.
At the start of the year, Mostert was mostly a special teams player. He joined the 49ers in 2016, but saw action in just one game, carrying the ball one time for 1 yard and returned two kicks for 35 yards.
It really wasn’t until San Francisco suffered injuries to running backs Matt Brieda and Tevin Coleman midway through the 2019 season that Mostert finally got his break.
On a muddy, rainy day against the NFL’s other top regular season team — the Baltimore Ravens — Mostert emerged as a breakaway threat. He gained 146 yards on 19 carries for a gaudy 7.7 yards per carry average and scored on a 40-yard run in the 49ers 20-17 final seconds defeat.
After Sunday there may be endorsement opportunities coming his way, but he already has a pretty unique one locked up. It’s not a food pitch like Campbell Soup or some brand of athletic shoe or sleek automobile.
It’s for Billabong — the surfboard manufacturer. Mostert is a self proclaimed beach bum, who says surfing is his go-to activity to get away from the rigors of football.
“I like going surfing. Just going out there, even on the beach just listening to the waves crash and stuff like that,” said Mostert. “That really helps my mind go at ease, just get relaxed and have fun.”
His passion for the big waves took many on his team by surprise. Then he scored his first touchdown of the season, dove on the ground in the end zone and pantomimed padding out to catch a wave and leaping to his feet on a virtual surfboard.
“If I just saw him on the football field I would be surprised because I just don’t think of many running backs being big surfers,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan in the days leading up to Sunday’s game. “I’m with him every day and I talk to him so it doesn’t surprise me at all, the way he talks and just hanging out with him. He’s from Florida which surprises me because usually the surfers are from California. I know there are some waves down there too. I think it’s been cool. He got a Billabong sponsorship a couple months ago.”
The former Purdue star grew up surfing in New Smyrna Beach, Florida — a community well known for its shark attacks. But when it has came to navigating the treacherous waters of the NFL, Mostert found it a little more difficult to maneuver.
He was an NFL vagabond, to put it kindly, bouncing between four teams — the Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins — in four years.
“I was a little discouraged in 2015 at the end of that year,” he said of those difficult years. “I was with the Browns. My wife, she’s from Cleveland. So, we thought that we had something in the bag, me making the roster. And then coming into training camp, preseason, had a little bit of an injury so I missed the last preseason game that year. And I thought I was on the roster. I made the roster, the 53-man roster. And then celebrated with my family. And then the next day I got cut.”
His blinding speed made him valuable on kick coverage, but getting a shot at being running back proved as elusive as any big wave. He never had an official carry for any of those teams.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle says Mostert’s speed has become his greatest weapon at running back.
“I mean whether it’s special teams or offense, the way he hits the hole, he gets so vertical so fast. And, I think defenses, they underestimate his speed,” he said. “You can just see it. He’ll hit a hole and the guy will take what he thinks is a good angle. And, next thing you know, he’s by him. Doesn’t even touch him. And, his 0 to 60 is literally in two steps and it’s so special, especially with our offense.”
The quick-style fits in perfectly with the 49ers outside blocking scheme.
“The way we do outside zone, inside zone, he can make one cut and get vertical,” Kittle added. “It’s all we need.”
While his intensity on the field has earned his teammates respect, there still in that chill surfer demeanor in the locker room.
“He’s one of those guys, a chill guy, gets along with everyone,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said last week. “I can definitely see the surfer, skateboard mentality. He’s an awesome guy to be around. A great guy in the lockerroom.”
Over the last six regular season games, Mostert found the end zone seven times. With each score, he celebrated with his unique touchdown dance.
“He’s enjoying it and it’s my favorite (touchdown) dance he does too,” Shanahan said.
And when the NFL players were given the opportunity to support a favorite cause with specially designed shoes — Mostert’s were of a giant shark and pitch to support ocean conservancy.
“I play to raise the awareness to protect our ocean,” he said.
As for a future goal on the waves, Mostert said he would love to catch a ride at Mavericks — Northern California’s legendary and deadly big wave surf break.
“I follow Mavericks,” he told KPIX 5. “I really want to go out there one time and try it — that’s some really good surfing out there.”