SANTA CLARA — The 49ers just lost 29-22 to the dismal, injured Atlanta Falcons. Here are the 49ers’ grades:
GAROPPOLO: C. This a passing grade. Garoppolo was adequate. But, he didn’t play well enough to win. He went against a defense that was missing its top cornerback (Desmond Trufant), top safety (Keanu Neal), and one of their top pass rushers (Takkarist McKinley), and still threw for just 200 yards. He also threw two passes the Falcons nearly intercepted. He completed only four passes to wide receivers — it seemed as though he didn’t even look at them. And he didn’t win the game. Big step backward after a career performance against the Saints last week. To win the Super Bowl, the 49ers will need Consistent Jimmy, not Good Jimmy and Bad Jimmy.
RUNNING BACKS: C. Tevin Coleman had a 37-yard run, but if you take away that play the 49ers running backs averaged just 2.9 yards per carry. They couldn’t get much going for most of the game. Their best play was a two-yard touchdown catch by fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Jeff Wilson Jr. was active but never ran the ball. The 49ers need to find playing time for him. He’s an asset.
WIDE RECEIVERS: D-MINUS. Kendrick Bourne had one catch for 11 yards, Emmanuel Sanders had two catch for nine yards and Deebo Samuel had one catch for 29 yards. Samuel also dropped two passes. He is a better running back than a wide receiver at this point in his career. He even played running back at times against the Falcons and rushed for eight yards. He needs to work on getting open and catching the ball. He’s terrific with the ball in his hands.
TIGHT ENDS: A. George Kittle basically was the entire offense. Garoppolo threw 17 of his 34 pass attempts to Kittle, and Kittle caught 13 passes for 134 yards. He clearly is the best tight end in the NFL and the best player on the 49ers offense. They might not have scored any points if they didn’t have Kittle in this game.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C. They gave up only one sack that counted, but they gave up two sacks that didn’t count because the Falcons committed unnecessary-roughness penalties. Meaning the offensive line gave up pressure. And with the exception of one play in the running game, they didn’t create holes for the running backs.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B-MINUS. They held Falcons running back Devonta Freeman to just 39 rushing yards, and hit Matt Ryan six times. But, they sacked him only twice. The 49ers defensive line, which was so deep and energetic the first two months of the season, seems exhausted. These players need a Bye week big time.
LINEBACKERS: B-MINUS. Fred Warner had nine tackles and Dre Greenlaw had six. Warner almost intercepted a pass, but nickelback D.J. Reed knocked the ball away from him by accident.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: F. Three starters were out: Richard Sherman, K’Waun Williams and Jaquiski Tartt. And their replacements all struggled. Emmanuel Moseley and D.J. Reed took turns giving up catches to Julio Jones, and safety Marcell Harris gave up the game-losing touchdown with five seconds left in the fourth quarter. More on that play below.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-MINUS. Ross Dwelley stripped the ball from Falcons punt returner Kenjon Barner, and Kyle Juszczyk recovered the ball at the Falcons’ 15 yard line and ran it down to their one-yard line. This group gets a “minus” because Robbie Gould missed an extra point. The kick-return unit also fumbled and gave up a touchdown on the final play of the game, but it was a desperation play and they lateraled the ball three times. They had no choice but to lateral the ball as much as possible.
COACHES: D. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh didn’t have more than half of his key contributors on defense, but he was facing the lowly Falcons, who didn’t have wide receiver Calvin Ridley . They and essentially have just one receiving threat — Julio Jones — and Saleh couldn’t find a way to stop him. Man-to-man coverage didn’t work, because Moseley and Reed were too small to match up with Jones. And zone coverage didn’t work, because the 49ers’ backup defensive backs frequently wandered out of position and blew their assignments. On the defense’s final play, Saleh tried to bracket Jones with Moseley and Harris — double coverage — but Harris lined up too deep and allowed Jones to right by him and make the touchdown catch. In hindsight, Saleh probably should have blitzed, because he knew his coverage couldn’t hold up.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan didn’t have his team prepared to play a home game in December. His players admitted they were flat. His offensive game plan was the worst of the season. And he couldn’t establish one player other than Kittle. It seemed as though Shanahan expected to win and was primarily focused on Kittle breaking Mike Ditka’s record for most receiving yards by a tight end in his first three seasons. And late in the fourth quarter on fourth and one with the game on the line, Shanahan lost his nerve, went conservative and kicked a field goal from the Falcons’ 25-yard line instead of going for the first down. Had the 49ers gained just one yard, they could have ran out the clock and won. Instead, Shanahan asked his tired, beat-up defense to win the game, and they couldn’t. The 49ers can’t afford another bad performance from Shanahan. They need Good Kyle the rest of the way.