As soon as the 49ers were beginning to live up to their preseason expectations, they reminded fans why they have hovered around .500 all season. Despite facing a flailing Seattle Seahawks team, the Niners wasted a fantastic opportunity to solidify themselves in the NFC Wild-Card race in a 30-23 loss. Reaching the postseason is still very much in play for San Francisco, but it’s hard to feel great about their prospects after another big letdown.
Here’s how each position group contributed to the final result:
Jimmy Garoppolo was bad on Sunday. His unusual aversion to turnovers recently came to an abrupt end this week with two terrible interceptions. He did rack up 299 passing yards and two touchdowns with 20 completions on 30 attempts, but Garoppolo left several large plays on the table.
Brandon Aiyuk and Kyle Juszczyk each dropped catchable throws from Jimmy G that could have been big plays, but a better throw down the sideline to Juszczyk would have been an even bigger play. Garoppolo did enough to save himself from the lowest possible grade, but his mistakes were too glaring to do much better.
Running backs: C+
The 49ers have recently leaned heavily on Elijah Mitchell, and Sunday was no different. However, despite amassing more than 20 carries for his third consecutive game, it was easily his least efficient game of the season (averaging just 3 yards per carry). With that said, Mitchell’s offensive line did not do him a lot of favors. He gained just 8 yards before contract all game.
Tight ends: A+
Without Deebo Samuel, George Kittle was back as the primary target in the 49ers’ offense. He hauled in 9 receptions for 181 receiving yards and two touchdowns and even added a five-yard carry on the ground. If there’s one thing Kittle had never done in his career before this season, it’s rack up touchdowns. However, after Sunday’s loss to Seattle, he has already tied his career-high for touchdowns in a season even though he’s played in just nine games this season.
Wide receivers: C+
Samuel’s absence led to one of the least productive performances from the 49ers receivers in some time. Brandon Aiyuk led the group with three receptions for 55 yards, but the rest of the team’s wide receivers combined for three catches and 24 receiving yards. There’s been a lot of talk about the non-call holding/pass interference on Trent Sherfield during the 49ers’ final drive, but Sherfield should have been able to make the catch despite the contact. He didn’t.
Offensive line: D
Perhaps there’s an argument for an even lower grade, given how bottled up the run game was alongside some terrible reps on passing downs. However, Garoppolo generally had enough time on his dropbacks. It’s still hard to justify Tom Compton starting at right tackle over Jaylon Moore, but the 49ers continue to lean on veterans at the expense of their young players.
Defensive line: A-
The 49ers defensive line recorded four sacks, four tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. On the interior, D.J. Jones was a monster, recording seven tackles (two for loss), but he was far from the only player who made an impact. Even with some questionable non-calls on holding, the Niners were pressuring Russell Wilson all game and locked up their running attack. Besides the fake punt, Seattle averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. The line’s two costly roughing the passer penalties kept them from a higher grade, although neither were obvious penalties.
Azeez Al-Shaair stepped up and filled Fred Warner’s shoes beautifully. He led both teams with 16 tackles, added half a sack, a tackle for loss, forced a fumble late in the 4th quarter, and nearly hauled in an interception. Al-Shaair is quickly emerging as one of the most impactful Niners defenders.
The 49ers’ corners just aren’t the same without Emmanuel Moseley. After he left the game early, things began to open up for Seattle. Deommodore Lenoir failed to build off his early-season flashes and was replaced by Dontae Johnson in the fourth quarter. The Niners were getting pressure up front all day, but he almost always had an open receiver whenever Wilson was not under immediate pressure.
Jaquiski Tartt, Jimmie Ward, and Talanoa Hufanga recorded four tackles, but DeMeco Ryans’ last line of defense could not generate any big plays. All three were a mixed bag in coverage, and with the 49ers’ issues at cornerback, that was not enough to keep the Seahawks comeback at bay.
Special teams: F
Allowing a fake punt that leads to a 73-yard touchdown run arguably would be enough to earn this unit an F. Throw in Robbie Gould’s first missed extra point of the season, a 37-yard punt from Mitch Wishnowsky, and a kickoff return that sparked Seattle’s touchdown drive to end the first half. There’s really no other grade left to give. The 49ers’ special teams have been adequate most of the season, but it’s been a significant problem the last few games.