Somber. That was the tone, as expected, during the 49ers postgame media availability. The emotions were running high, and with the loss still fresh on the players' memories, disappointment doesn’t begin to describe the mood.
That didn’t take away from how proud this team was of each other. It started with head coach Kyle Shanahan and ended with Fred Warner, the final player to speak.
Let’s start with the player who people believe cost the 49ers a shot at a Super Bowl.
Tartt takes ownership
Jaquiski Tartt’s dropped interception is a play that everyone could see; therefore, it’s a play that’ll stick with you.
The 49ers allowed the Rams to convert 61% of their third downs while only 33% of their own third downs. They shot themselves in the foot numerous times — from Jalen Ramsey dropping an interception to the Rams dropping an open touchdown due to miscommunication in the secondary. There were a dozen plays that swung the direction of this game.
Tartt should have caught the ball, and he knows that:
No excuses!! I deserve all the criticism my way! Opportunity I dream of I came up short!!! Let my brothers down!! It Still won't define me as a person/player. Only will get stronger and better... #Believdat— Jaquiski ‘Quaski’ Tartt (@quaski) January 31, 2022
It would have been easy for the 49ers or Tartt to hide the player who fans were ready to attack, but that didn’t happen.
It seemed as though it was Tartt’s idea to speak with the media:
“I was thinking about it all week. I know I can make that play.”
“As a player, I feel like I let my brothers down.”
“We left a lot of plays on the field. Obviously, my play was crucial.”
Tartt, when asked if he overthought the play: “Nah, I see it. When he threw it, I was thinking, ‘he f*cked up.’ I had it in my hands, and I see it. I dropped it. I didn’t drop a ball in practice all week. I was catching everything my way.
Ain’t too much you can do to practice a moment like that. The only time you get that moment is when you get it. For me, it’s a moment of truth. The moment of truth showed that I didn’t step up.”
This sport will make you pay if you don’t take advantage of the opportunities presented. We saw it on the first drive when Jimmy Garoppolo missed George Kittle for what looked like a would-be touchdown. That didn’t bad luck didn’t stop with Tartt.
Another big talking point from the game that’s flying under the radar happened when linebacker Fred Warner had a late hit on Matthew Stafford:
Fred Warner lays out Matthew Stafford from behind after he threw his goalline pick.— MyBookie - Bet With The Best (@MyBookie) January 31, 2022
No flag. pic.twitter.com/WRByJkpFx4
I’m not defending or condoning what Warner did. You’re taught to go after the quarterback when there’s a turnover as a defender.
Warner admitted that the replay looks terrible, and apologized:
“You guys have watched me for a long time. I never do anything out of malicious intent.”
Warner was pretty harsh on his performance. He said he was going over in his head all of the plays that he could have made and was quick to point out that this game wasn’t on Tartt.
Warner, along with Kittle, highlighted that the 49ers wouldn’t be here had Tartt not chased down Aaron Jones in the Divisional playoff round at the end of the first half on a 70+ yard play to save a touchdown.
Ward wasn’t happy about his mistakes
Ward blamed himself for not doing his job on the play where Rams wide receiver Ben Skowronek couldn’t haul in a deep touchdown. He said he was staring at one route when he shouldn’t have been.
Los Angeles converted 11-of-18 first downs. Here’s Ward on the 49ers third-down defense:
“You lose games like that. You can’t get off the field. I feel like that’s one area where we struggled. We couldn’t get off the field. We were on the field for entirely too long.”
Ward chalked his personal foul late in the game up to happenstance, calling himself a “great aimer.” He said Odell Beckham Jr. simply fell. On a bang-bang play where the wideout is trying to protect themselves, that sudden movement at the end when the defender is coming in at full speed is how the 49ers ended up with a 15-yard penalty.
Garoppolo grasps the moment
Jimmy Garoppolo went 1-for-6 for -3 yards with an interception on the final two drives in a sport where the quarterback gets all of the glory. Was it all Jimmy’s fault? Of course not. But “Bad Jimmy” was lurking in the shadows all afternoon. The ball always evens out, and it did on Sunday. Garoppolo finished the game with a postseason career-high of 232 yards. Matthew Stafford threw for 337 yards on the other side of the ball.
The 49ers were one quarter away from making a Super Bowl with Daniel Brunskill and Tom Compton starting on the right side of the offensive line.
You could go down the list of improbabilities the 49ers overcame to make it to the NFC Championship and come away simultaneously surprised and impressed.
Kittle summed up how the fourth quarter went when describing a play: “I looked back for the ball, and Jimmy was running for his life.”
Again, there were plays Garoppolo missed that took points off the board. There were also plays where he did his best impression of David Copperfield as he escaped a couple of sacks.
Jimmy masked an offensive line which had its best player who said he was 65% healthy playing on a Grade 2 high-ankle sprain.
The Rams were teeing off on the Niners’ offensive line late in the game. Garoppolo was pressured on seven of his nine dropbacks in the fourth quarter. Things tend to fall apart quickly for Garoppolo when he’s under pressure.
Everyone from the media to the fans could do a better job of humanizing the sport. Jimmy Garoppolo just played his last game as a 49er.
After the game, Garoppolo spoke about his teammates having his back and the emotions of this potentially being his last hoorah in San Francisco. Before Jimmy could finish answering the final question, he choked up, thanked everyone, and walked away.
It was refreshing. The organization put Garoppolo into a spot you wouldn’t wish your worst enemy on. It was a lose-lose situation where Jimmy was a dead man walking.
You can be unhappy with how he performs on the field at times while acknowledging how he controlled himself all season with endless quarterback questions that were out of his control.
With every question Sunday night, you could see Garoppolo playing back the relationships he’s built in the building during his tenure with the 49ers in his head. That’s when there was a brief crack in the stoic armor of Garoppolo before he left the stage:
[The emotions] hit pretty hard in the locker room. I think these next couple of days it will really start to settle in a little bit. Emotions are high after a game win or loss, and it’s one of those things you’ve got to be glad it happened, smile from it, and think about the good things. We’ll see what happens in these next couple days, weeks, whatever, but I love this team. Just the fight and the battle in this team throughout the entire year has been really impressive. I love those guys.
Just everything we’ve been through, starting with the offseason, into training camp. It was a roller coaster of a year, it really was. But we fought through it. Good teams, we were a resilient team, and that’s what good teams do, you fight through things like that and come out better at the other end of it.”
Garoppolo laughed and said, “I don’t know,” when asked how he got through this season. He gave credit to the quality of people that he was surrounded by.
As for the player, I don’t think this will be the last time we hear about Garoppolo making the playoffs in his career.
Trent Williams said he was proud of how Garoppolo handled this season and called him a “brother for life.”
Williams said it was “really difficult” and that his ankle sprain was “a lot to deal with.” He went as far as saying there were a couple of times during the game where he didn’t think he’d be able to finish.
While Williams was unsure if he made his high ankle-sprain worse, or even if he needed surgery, he said he couldn’t imagine missing this game, “so I just tried to do everything I could.”
He said the pain is “pretty bad.” Williams didn’t hide the fact that he wasn’t 100% but also didn’t make excuses for himself or the offense. Most of the players gave the Rams credit. You don’t hear that often enough.