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Complete position-by-position grades for the 49ers heartbreaking 20-17 loss to the Rams

The 49ers offense struggled for the third straight game and wasn’t bailed out by the defense or special teams.

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

That’s all, folks. The San Francisco 49ers season is over after losing to the Los Angeles Rams 20-17. The Niners were outscored 13-0 in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship and ultimately fell just short of returning to the Super Bowl just a couple of years after falling short against Kansas City.

Here’s how each position group faired in the 49ers final game of the season:

Quarterback: D

I considered giving Jimmy Garoppolo an even lower grade, but I decided to give him a marginal break because of how poorly the 49ers offensive line played. With that said, Garoppolo’s mediocre numbers were arguably better than his play deserved. Unlike in recent weeks, the Niners receivers had no drops, but Garoppolo’s completion percentage was still 17 percentage points WORSE than expected, per Next Gen Stats.

Garoppolo delivered a beautiful throw down the sideline in the first half to Brandon Aiyuk that nearly turned into a touchdown. Later on, he found Aiyuk for a tight-window throw over the middle for another significant gain. Otherwise, his biggest plays were a screen pass to Deebo Samuel that went for 44 yards and a 16-yard completion to a wide-open George Kittle.

Beyond a costly inaccurate throw to Kittle on the Niners’ first drive and the late-game interception, Garoppolo spiked a quick hit to Aiyuk and threw at least two passes that hit Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey in the hands. The 49ers’ defense and special teams have bailed out a stagnant 49ers offense throughout the playoffs, but that finally came to a halt against the Rams, and Jimmy G could not get San Francisco over the top.

Running backs: C-

Elijah Mitchell only amassed 20 rushing yards on 11 carries and hauled in three receptions for 50 receiving yards. Niners Nation’s Kyle Posey pointed out that Mitchell was open underneath throughout the game. For some reason, the 49ers have shied away from utilizing Mitchell in their passing game even though he had nearly 600 receiving yards during his collegiate career.

Kyle Juszczyk was the only other 49ers back to receive a carry, and while his line did him no favors, he ultimately was stopped on third-and-two for no gain on the 49ers’ final drive while they had the lead.

Tight end: B-

Garoppolo missed a wide-open George Kittle on the 49ers’ first drive of the game, probably costing San Francisco a field goal and potentially a touchdown. Kittle later pulled in a big third-down conversion and touchdown but finished with just two receptions for 27 receiving yards. Kittle made some big catches and could have had another with a better throw from Garoppolo, but fans are still waiting for his first big-time postseason performance.

Wide receivers: A-

Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings were once again a fantastic trio of receivers. Samuel remains in a league of his own, recording seven carries for 26 rushing yards and four receptions for 72 receiving yards and a touchdown. Quietly, Aiyuk had a fantastic day, highlighted by his deep catch down the left sideline. However, Garoppolo missed him on multiple throws, and Aiyuk was held to four receptions for 69 yards.

Jennings caught his only two targets for just eight receiving yards, but his first reception was caught a couple of yards short on third down, and he fought through multiple Rams defenders to convert.

Offensive line: F

When Mitchell and Samuel receive 18 carries and average less than three yards an attempt, it’s easy to see that the 49ers line was dominated. The Rams defensive line controlled San Francisco at the point of attack all day, but there were also costly mental errors. On one play, guards Laken Tomlinson and Daniel Brunskill pulled in opposite directions and collided.

The Niners’ offensive line was solid in pass blocking for most of the game but collapsed on their final two drives, leaving Garoppolo little time to operate. The Rams had some success with blitzes, but for the most part, generated pressure with Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and the rest of their front four.

Defensive line: B-

As great as the Niners’ defense has been this year, they have rarely been tested by time of possession. Even when the 49ers’ defense struggled earlier this season, it tended to surrender big passing plays downfield, limiting their time on the field. That was not the case on Sunday. Instead, the Rams had multiple Niners-like drives, which kept San Francisco’s defense on the field for most of the game.

Nick Bosa was a star up front, recording seven pressures, per PFF, and 1.5 sacks despite dealing with double teams and chips all game long. However, even he acknowledged that he was more tired than usual in the second half. Samson Ebukam added five pressures and 0.5 sacks from the other side of the line. However, the rest of the Niners’ defensive line could not generate consistent pressure. Regardless, no one had much success in the fourth quarter.

Linebackers: B+

Fred Warner was in on ten tackles and was the only Niners defender outside of their defensive line to record a tackle for loss (he had 2). One of his best plays of the game came on the Rams’ final drive. Warner read a Rams screen on third down beautifully and stopped it short, forcing Los Angeles to settle for a field goal with time on the clock. Without that play, Garoppolo and the 49ers likely do not get the ball back or do not have a chance to win with a touchdown on their final drive.

Dre Greenlaw was knocked out early in the game with an injury, but Azeez Al-Shaair was solid in his place. Al-Shaair and Greenlaw combined for just eight tackles, struggled at times in coverage, and failed to stop any of the Rams’ screen passes. Still, they both played adequately beside Warner.

Cornerbacks: D+

Ambry Thomas’ fantastic stretch of play came to an abrupt halt against the Rams. But, of course, going up against Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. for the second time in less than a month was always going to be a tough challenge. Thomas misplayed a touchdown to Cooper Kupp on third-and-long and was caught in between multiple times throughout the game. In the slot, K’Waun Williams’ struggles in coverage were also prominently on display.

Emmanuel Moseley was good, but with Thomas, Williams, and the 49ers’ safeties failing to live up to their recent performances, Moseley looked more like a solid starter than the lockdown corner he’s played like recently.

Safeties: C+

Jaquiski Tartt’s dropped interception may be the play that 49ers fans remember most from this season, but his safety mate Jimmie Ward nabbed an interception in the endzone for a huge first-quarter stop. With that said, Ward and Tartt were unusually error-prone against the Rams.

Besides Tartt’s drop, Ward got turned around in coverage and left Rams receiver Ben Skowronek wide open in the endzone, where he dropped the intended pass. Ward was in the slot on one of the Rams’ third-down screen passes but got caught in a block and was unable to make a play. Many have pointed out how Ward and Tartt have been underrated because they often do the dirty work that fans do not notice while watching games. On Sunday, the story was different. They were a focal point of several of the game’s biggest plays, and it reflected a defensive unit that was more out of sync than it’s been in some time.

Special teams: C+

The 49ers could have used another big play from their special teams, but Richard Hightower’s unit already got them one victory this season. The worst special teams play of the game was a bad kickoff return by Samuel that pinned the Niners offense inside their own 20. However, Trent Sherfield made a great play on a punt to pin the Rams inside their own five. Robbie Gould made all three of his attempts. Mitch Wishnowsky’s punts were once again a mixed bag, but nothing exceptional in either direction.