The 49ers blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, and now their season is over. However, Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan has a ton of things to be proud of about this team. Their resilient fight propelled them into the playoffs, and they were a quarter away from another Super Bowl appearance.
We look at my five takeaways below.
The Rams offense went 11-18 on third down
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford was precise on third down versus DeMeco Ryans’ defense. He constantly converted third downs, which led to Los Angeles controlling the clock. Ryans’ defense forced a three-and-out to start the game and intercepted Stafford in the end zone on the ensuing drive.
There were several bright things the defense did well, like holding the Rams to seven points in the first half and limiting their rushing attack to 2.4 YPC on 29 attempts. My favorite defensive series Sunday came on Los Angeles’s first possession of the second half.
Stafford was able to show why receiver Odell Beckham Jr is still an elite talent in the NFL. Beckham had back-to-back explosive plays to start the drive, and Stafford would deliver another pass before the defense would allow no more.
With under nine minutes left in the third quarter, we saw Ryans’ defense get stingy and not allow a yard after three tries on San Francisco’s 43-yard line. “Bend but don’t break” has been the motto for this unit as they’ve forced offenses to turn the ball over on downs all season.
Ultimately, the Rams converted too many third downs, and San Francisco had no answer for Cooper Kupp. It doesn’t feel right to blame the defense as they did give the offense plenty of chances to seal the game. However, you have to get a stop on third down to kill drives.
Shanahan will see that 4th & 2 in his nightmares
Everything is magnified in the fourth quarter, and Shanahan had a huge blunder up 17-14. Two stagnant plays after a nine-yard Elijah Mitchell rush to set up 4th and 2 near midfield. Shanahan opted to try and get the defense to jump offside instead of trying to convert and possibly go up 10 points. It looks like Shanahan wasn’t true to his words as he was comfortable enough to not even think about going for it.
Kyle Shanahan tells the media he “never” thought about going for it here https://t.co/v7kXW3davf— Dalton Johnson (@DaltonJ_Johnson) January 31, 2022
Maybe Shanahan took into account that San Francisco was second-worst in converting 3rd/4th and 1-2 yards this season. San Franciso’s win probability started at 81% when the score was 17-7 and plummeted to 60% after a Rams touchdown and deciding not to go for it.
The conservative decision put a Los Angeles offense who was able to move the ball all game back on the field. Shanahan’s offense was given two more opportunities to win or tie the game, but those two drives had a combined negative eight yards (penalty yards included).
The Garoppolo era is over
After lackluster performances in the Wild Card and Divisional games, I thought the offense would bounce back. Most importantly, I figured Garoppolo would turn around the subpar play to give this offense a fighting chance. He constantly threw off-target passes and even put Deebo Samuel in some dangerous situations.
Jimmy G in his last 2 drives of the game:— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 31, 2022
⬛️ 1/6 for -3 yards and 1 INT
⬛️ 1 delay of game penalty pic.twitter.com/x3yhlNnI43
Los Angeles was able to neutralize Shanahan’s rushing attack, which included keeping Samuel in check when he was in the backfield. Garoppolo’s play was good enough through three quarters, but the Niners desperately needed him to make a play in the fourth quarter. Something tells me that Garoppolo had a monkey on his back during his Niner tenure. His turnover to end the game could not have come in a more Garoppolo fashion.
This team should be remembered for being resilient
The NFC championship lost stings, but this team has every right to call this a “special season.” San Francisco fought extremely hard after the four-game losing streak that put them at 3-4. Even though San Francisco had three egregious losses after (Cardinals, Seahawks, and Titans), most importantly they fought in every game after the Week 9 catastrophe against Arizona’s reserves.
Grit and resiliency should carry into next year as San Francisco fought back to become a contender this year. As tough as I’ve been on this team they’ve had plenty of moments that made me jump for joy. The overtime win over the Bengals may be my favorite win of the season. San Francisco constantly had their backs against the wall, and they figured out how to win against a team that now has the opportunity to win the Super Bowl.
Bright future with core returning players
San Francisco has a long list of free agents, but most of the core players are set to return. The “Yac Bros” get to grow tighter to Trey Lance, Ryans’ front-seven looks to return, and Ambry Thomas got some vital cornerback reps after people (me included) never thought he would see the field.
It’s important to note that the expectations will remain the same with Lance. There are holes to address on the roster, but this team still has a lot of talent to make a run next year. There will be growing pains with Lance, but the hope is for him to take Shanahan’s offense to new levels.
It stinks the season ended on a salty note, but I have to say it was an honor to cover the 49ers this season. Kyle Posey took a chance on me and I’m forever grateful—I’m also thankful for all the commenters whether we agree or not.
Football brings out tons of different personalities, and it was fun to watch mine reshape with the critiques of you all in the comments.
As I said earlier, the future is bright for this team. I’ve been critical of general manager John Lynch’s moves, but let’s hope he gets DeMeco Ryans a press-man corner to enhance Ryans’ aggressive nature.