Somehow, someway, despite how bleak their chances looked, the San Francisco 49ers reached the postseason. In one of the wildest games of the season, the Niners rebounded from a 17-0 deficit to win 27-24 in overtime over the Los Angeles Rams. It was far from a perfect performance from head coach Kyle Shanahan and his team, but San Francisco needed all hands on deck to complete the victory.
Here are position-by-position grades for the 49ers performance:
I went back and forth on this grade more than any other. Jimmy Garoppolo’s performance on Sunday encapsulated so much about his tenure in San Francisco. He squandered multiple drives with two bad interceptions and a fumble that could have been even more catastrophic if Tom Compton had not recovered it.
Yet, despite those costly errors, Garoppolo delivered several huge throws, especially on their comeback drives. Despite my frustrations with Garoppolo throughout his tenure, he’s always been able to bounce back from his worst plays. The fact that he did it with such a severe injury is even more impressive.
Running backs: B+
This was far from Elijah Mitchell’s most impressive statistical game, recording 85 rushing yards on 21 carries, but he maximized what limited space the 49ers front was able to create for him upfront. According to Pro Football Focus, Mitchell broke seven tackles and recorded 68 of his 85 yards after contact.
Ja’Mycal Hasty also had one carry for four yards and two receptions for 21 yards but could not haul in a downfield pass from Garoppolo that probably should have been caught. As for the 49ers’ other backs, Jeff Wilson and Kyle Juszczyk played some snaps but never received a touch, although Juszczyk did make a significant contribution as a holder after Mitch Wishnowsky was forced out of the game.
Tight end: C+
In arguably the least productive game of his career, George Kittle amassed just ten receiving yards on seven targets (five receptions). Kittle’s unique abilities as a blocker make it hard to ever say he had a bad game, but it’s surprising to look back at a 49ers win where Kittle never made a big play. None of the 49ers’ other tight ends were targetted.
Wide receivers: A
Deebo Samuel will not win MVP this year, but he sure deserves to be in the conversation. Samuel threw a 24-yard touchdown, rushed for 45 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, and caught four passes for 94 receiving yards. It was a fitting end to a special regular season. Now, the Niners will hope Deebo can continue carrying their offense through the playoffs.
Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings were also fantastic on Sunday. Aiyuk dropped what should have been a downfield completion from Garoppolo in the second half but caught all six of his other targets for 107 receiving yards. Jennings continued appearing in big moments, amassing a career-high six receptions for 94 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Offensive line: C+
With Trent Williams a late scratch, the 49ers decided to go with Colton McKivitz, who had not played a snap for the team all season, at left tackle over rookie Jaylon Moore. Shanahan said the plan was for McKivitz and Moore to share playing time initially, but the staff did not want to mess with things after things got rolling in the third quarter. McKivitz was far from dominant, surrendering multiple pressures and giving Garoppolo no chance on one sack, but he was passable.
McKivitz’s performance was not too different from the unit as a whole. The line struggled to create large holes for the 49ers on the ground, and Garoppolo dealt with pressure throughout the game. It was not a fantastic performance, but it could have gone far worse with McKivitz and Compton starting at the two tackle spots.
Defensive line: A+
This unit is just so talented. Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead have been elite all season long, but the emergence of players like Samson Ebukam, Kentavius Street, and Arden Key alongside D.J. Jones has taken them to another level. Ebukam was the only player from that group that did not get a sack or tackle for loss on Sunday. Armstead, though, finally posted the box score that reflected his performance all season long. He recorded seven tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two tackles for loss.
Dre Greenlaw was solid against the run in his return and finished plenty of plays, racking up five solo tackles and seven assists, but is far from the player in coverage that Azeez Al-Shaair is. Playing just his third game of the season, Greenlaw looked rusty at times but found a rhythm as the game went on. However, even with Greenlaw’s struggles, Fred Warner lived up to the moment on Sunday. The 49ers captain was fantastic in coverage while recording eight tackles, a tackle for loss, and half a sack.
Dontae Johnson was getting dominated by Cooper Kupp in the slot, helping Kupp rack up nearly 100 receiving yards in the first half. However, after Talanoa Hufanga’s injury, the 49ers' secondary seemed to find a rhythm once he shifted to safety. Significant credit should go to Darqueze Dennard, who filled in for Johnson in the slot, who the Niners added just a few days ago.
Otherwise, Emmanuel Moseley showed why the 49ers had missed him so much. Despite a late pass interference call, Moseley was good in coverage throughout the game and made a fantastic interception to help the Niners come back in the third quarter.
Ambry Thomas got beat on a handful of plays but looked like a viable option at corner. Something that looked far from possible just a few weeks ago. The rookie’s continued development has been one of the best stories over the last month of the regular season, and it was fitting that he hauled in his first career interception to punch the 49ers ticket to the playoffs.
The 49ers’ safeties made a few more mistakes than usual in the first half, with each of Jaquiski Tartt and Talanoa Hufanga ending up out of position on big third-and-long conversions. With that said, Tartt saved a big play with one open-field tackle and added another tackle for loss as well. Jimmie Ward was his usual trustworthy self, generally keeping things contained.
Special teams: B
This game could have easily been about a special team’s disaster once MitchWishnowsky’swas forced out of the game with a concussion. Instead, Juszczyk stepped up to hold, and Robbie Gould averaged 45 yards per punt, including a huge 43-yard punt at the two-minute warning that gave the 49ers defense a chance to make a stop. The Niners almost assuredly do not make it to overtime if Gould shanks that kick.