San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) passes against the Minnesota Vikings during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

The pendulum of results and corresponding emotions swing wildly throughout an NFL regular season. Even for the good teams, how well you navigate the lows during what is now an 18-week journey typically determines the height of your highest peak.

After a fourth consecutive defeat in Week 7, the 49ers seemingly had hit rock bottom. They were awash with doubt and questions, namely at quarterback between rookie Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo. Coming off a Week 6 bye, the veteran got the start against the Colts and produced a passer rating of 60.9 in a 30-18 home loss that wasn’t much better than Lance’s 58.4 the week before in a 17-10 road defeat to the Cardinals.

At 2-4, San Francisco faced an early season crossroads that could send it in the wrong direction like last year when the Niners finished 6-10. Garoppolo's comments after the Indianapolis loss ended up being prescient.

"The NFL is a crazy thing," he said. "One week, you're on top. One week, you're at the bottom of it. Every team has its ups and downs. We're at the lower point right now. But we can fight back."

The 49ers have battled and found their footing. Garoppolo has remained the starter at QB and provided much-needed stability to Kyle Shanahan’s offense. A 33-22 victory in Chicago was followed by a 31-17 home loss to Arizona, but San Francisco has since won three straight games to put itself back in the NFC playoff mix at 6-5.

The latest W — a 34-26 home win over Minnesota on Sunday — had the intensity of a playoff matchup. More significantly, the victory moved the 49ers just one game behind the first-place Rams, who fell to 7-4 after losing 36-28 in Green Bay.

Garoppolo had his streak of 100-plus passer ratings end at four games, but he still managed a 90.2 rating in throwing for 230 yards and one touchdown on 17-of-26 passing. Dual-threat receiver Deebo Samuel continued to punish defenses in the red zone by scoring on runs of 20 and 3 yards to extend his rushing TD streak to three games. (The bad news is that Samuel left the game with a groin injury that will require an MRI on Monday.)

Shanahan agreed with the idea that his team has played its “best football these last three games.”

“I thought this one was a huge one because it was a little different than the last two, because it came down to the wire,” he told reporters afterward. “And things went good for both sides at certain times in the game, and then the momentum flipped a number of times.”

An extended absence by Samuel could slow the roll of the Niners offense. One solution could be more touches for rookie running back Elijah Mitchell, who ran for 133 yards and a touchdown and caught a team-high five passes for 35 yards against Minnesota.

“We’ve been taking a week-by-week mentality and just trying to get one win at a time, and it’s done well for us these last three weeks,” Garoppolo said. “I think we’ve got to keep doing that going forward, and we’ll be in a good spot.”

San Francisco's situation has improved also because of the Rams' sudden downturn. They have yet to win a game with Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr., two more stars who were added in general manager Les Snead's ongoing all-in investment to reach Super Bowl LVI, which will be played at the Rams' $5.5 billion stadium built by owner Stan Kroenke.

The 49ers' big win over the Vikings was just one of Sunday's best things in Week 12. Let's take a look at the rest.

Best offensive performance

Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers. On a day when Carson Wentz was outplaying Tom Brady (that’s not a typo), the defending champs leaned on the still very capable legs of the veteran running back, who scored four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving) to help Tampa Bay overcome a 24-14 halftime deficit in a 31-24 victory, its second straight, to improve to 8-3. Fournette caught seven passes for 31 yards and rushed 17 times for 100 yards (his first 100-yard rushing effort since Week 2 of last season). He is now averaging a career-best 4.5 yards per carry this season.

Best defensive performance

Patrick Surtain II, Broncos. Defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers had a monster game for the Jets in their 21-14 win at Houston with two sacks, two tackles for losses and a 32-yard rumbling return off a pass that he blocked into the air and intercepted (see below in Best Plays). Also, the Bengals defense’s domination of the Steelers was so thorough and satisfying, especially for Mike Hilton who had an INT return for a TD against his former team, and the Browns intercepted Lamar Jackson four times in a defensive struggle won by the Ravens. But Week 12 honors go to Denver’s rookie cornerback, who helped frustrate Chargers QB Justin Herbert with two interceptions in a 28-13 triumph that puts the 6-5 Broncos squarely in the mix of a wild AFC West race. Surtain, the ninth pick in last April’s draft, showed off his extraordinary speed in scoring his first career TD on a pick six, just like his dad.

Best special teams performance

Kene Nwangwu, Vikings. The fourth-round pick from Iowa State is becoming quite the weapon for Minnesota. He’s played only five games this season but has already returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, the second TD coming in the third quarter against the 49ers. Nwangwu, who went 99 yards to bring the Vikings within 31-26, is the third player since the 1970 merger to have two TD kickoff returns in his first five games.

Best statistics

The Panthers are back to losing with Cam Newton as their starting QB, and on Sunday he was Joey Harrington bad.

Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson is living up to his Twitter handle and nickname after picking off another pass to give him seven INTs this season.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford has a growing pick-six problem.

Best plays

John Franklin-Myers blocks the pass with both hands and embarks on a rumbling INT return.

Let’s admire Carson Wentz’s 62-yard TD bomb to Ashton Dulin while it sails through the air.

Vita Vea loses a tooth on a helmet and then laughs about it.

Marvin Jones Jr. lays out to make this incredible one-hand catch.

Dontrell Hilliard outruns the Patriots defense on a 68-yard TD.

Kendrick Bourne throws a mean stiff arm on a 41-yard TD catch and run.

Teddy Bridgewater sprints to the pylon and dives for the touchdown.

Cooper Kupp does some ballet-like toe tapping in the back of the end zone on this 2-point conversion.

Lamar Jackson leaves the Browns shaking their heads after eluding the blitz to throw a 13-yard TD pass to Mark Andrews.

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