After an admirable three games at Levi’s Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers returned to reality on Sunday in Los Angeles, falling 48-32 to the Rams in the season finale. Kyle Shanahan’s squad was bested in every facet of the game, committing costly turnovers on offense while failing to generate stops on defense. 21 of the 49ers’ 32 points came in the second half with the game well out of reach.
Here’s five takeaways from the 49ers’ Week 17 loss:
George Kittle set records
The 49ers’ star tight end put an exclamation point on an outstanding season today against the Rams. Kittle broke the record for the most receptions by a 49ers tight end with 88 on the season. He also set the NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end at 1,377 yards. He surpassed tight end Travis Kelce’s record of 1,336 yards, set today in the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory over the Oakland Raiders. Kittle finished the day with nine receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown, bringing his season-total to five scores.
49ers locked in to No. 2 pick
With Sunday’s loss, the 49ers secured their spot at second-overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. San Francisco was in a tight race with the New York Jets, both now 4-12, that was dependent on the two team’s strength of schedule. With some help from the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys, who both won, the Jets’ SOS boosted, giving the 49ers the nod for the No. 2 pick. San Francisco nearly landed the draft’s top pick, but the Arizona Cardinals were unable to beat the Seattle Seahawks, losing by a last-second field goal in CenturyLink Stadium.
Nick Mullens’ stock takes a hit
In his final start of the season, and possibly for the 49ers, Mullens struggled against the Rams’ defense. He completed 22 of 33 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw three interceptions; one was returned for six points and the other two led to eventual touchdowns from the Rams offense. Mullens’ stat line to close the season: 175 of 274 (63.8%), 2,277 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Despite a forgettable outing on Sunday, it remains an impressive eight starts for the former third-string quarterback. Mullens begins the offseason with a head start on C.J. Beathard for the backup role behind Jimmy Garoppolo.
There’s work to be done
Sunday’s game serves as a rude reminder that the 49ers still have a long way to go before competing against the Rams, and many other playoff-caliber teams. San Francisco’s injury-riddled roster coupled with a lack of talent at key positions creates a pivotal offseason for Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. With nearly $70 million in projected salary cap space along with the No. 2 pick in the draft, the pressure is on for Shanahan and Lynch as their third year with the 49ers begins.
Emerging young players
Injuries all over the roster have created opportunities for young, inexperienced players, many emerging as possible contributors moving forward. San Francisco’s rookie class has been stellar, with right tackle Mike McGlinchey, receiver Dante Pettis and linebacker Fred Warner leading the group throughout the season. Other back-ups like linebacker Elijah Lee, safety Marcell Harris, defensive lineman Ronald Blair, receiver Kendrick Bourne, and running back Matt Breida all made their case heading in 2019. The 49ers’ roster, despite its deficiencies, still had many positive developments throughout an otherwise disappointing season.