The 49ers took ownership of the NFC West and earned a first-round bye and homefield advantage in the playoffs with a last-second, one-inch victory over the Seattle Seahawks Sunday night. Here are the 49ers’ grades:
GAROPPOLO: A. He never had played in a game this important or on a stage this big, but the stage wasn’t too big for him. He played like he’d been on that stage dozens of times, like Seattle’s CenturyLink Field was just any other stadium. Garoppolo was deadly accurate — he completed a gaudy 82 percent of his throws. But most importantly, he made zero bad plays. He seemed like a veteran quarterback who can win a Super Bowl this season.
RUNNING BACKS: A. Just when people had forgotten about Kyle Juszczyk, he caught a 49-yard pass. Wonderful player. Raheem Mostert didn’t start, but he led the 49ers in carries, averaged 5.7 yards per rush and scored two touchdowns. Mostert now has scored eight touchdowns in the past six games. He’s a big reason the 49ers’ offense became elite the second half of the season. Without Mostert, the 49ers might not have a running game. Starter Tevin Coleman gained just 11 yards on five carries.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A-MINUS. Deebo Samuel is a fantastic athlete. He had 102 receiving yards, averaged a whopping 20.4 yards per catch and scored a 30-yard touchdown run. Samuel, Mostert and George Kittle are Garoppolo’s three best weapons. Samuel could become an elite wide receiver if he improves his hand-eye coordination and ball security. He fumbled once against the Seahawks, but recovered the ball. Veteran Emmanuel Sanders had just 25 receiving yards. He has become a bit of an afterthought in the offense the past few weeks.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B-MINUS. They blocked well in the run game and allowed just two sacks. But late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line, backup center Ben Garland committed a silly personal foul after a play and cost the 49ers 15 yards and an opportunity to run out the clock. That mistake almost cost the 49ers the game.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B. Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead all played extremely hard and made positive impacts on the game. They’re terrific players. Still, the 49ers pass rush was mostly non-existent. This defense needs a rest in the worst way. Fortunately for the 49ers, they just earned a week off.
LINEBACKERS: B. They struggled to defend Seahawks speedy running back Travis Homer, who averaged 6.2 yards per carry. But they held Marshawn Lynch to 2.8 yards per carry, and rookie Dre Greenlaw was the defensive player of the game. He recorded a game-high 13 tackles and sealed the victory with a clutch, violent tackle at the one-inch line with just a few seconds left. The 49ers would have lost had Greenlaw missed that tackle.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: C-PLUS. They limited Russell Wilson to just 5.8 yards per passing attempt, which is excellent pass defense. But one cornerback, Ahkello Witherspoon, almost sabotaged this group’s grade and the 49ers’ season. The Seahawks picked on him relentlessly and he gave up two touchdown catches, meaning he was directly responsible for 14 of the 21 points the 49ers gave up. The 49ers benched him for the final drive and replaced him with Emmanuel Moseley, who made a clutch pass breakup in the end zone. Moseley should remain the starter throughout the playoffs.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Robbie Gould made both of his field-goal attempts, including a 47-yarder. The game certainly wasn’t too big for him. But it may have been too big for rookie Mitch Wishnowsky, who booted a kickoff out of bounds in the fourth quarter and gave the Seahawks the ball at their 40-yard line.
COACHES: A. They beat the freaking Seahawks in Seattle. Huge accomplishment. Kyle Shanahan proved there is no blueprint to stopping his offense. If you try to take away his running game and make his offense one-dimensional, it can beat you passing. And you can’t take away his running game, because Mostert is too good. Robert Saleh continued to get the most out of his tired, banged up defense, which came up clutch on the final drive. Saleh and Shanahan stuck with Witherspoon too long, but they benched him before he could single-handedly lose the game, and they get credit for that. The 49ers now have the inside track to the Super Bowl and they earned it. Respect.