In the end, the San Francisco 49ers season finished one game short of the Super Bowl. This is a scene that has become all too common for 49ers fans who have now witnessed three NFC Championship game losses in four trips since 2011.
The team that lost yesterday and the 2013 squad shared very similar paths. The 2021 and 2013 teams each finished the regular season out with road victories before staying on the road and winning in the Wild Card and Divisional rounds. In the end, winning four straight road games proved to be too tall a task.
Both squads eventually met up with NFC West rivals on the road in the NFC Championship. Yesterday it was the Rams, and in 2013 it was the Seattle Seahawks. In each game, the 49ers scored 17 points and led the game through three quarters and their quarterbacks, Jimmy Garoppolo and Colin Kaepernick, would throw an interception on their teams’ final offensive possession.
The loss to Los Angeles yesterday was equal parts on the offense and defense. The 49ers’ defense could not get themselves off the field in the first half. After forcing a quick three and out on the first Rams offensive possession, they would allow Los Angeles to control the ball for over 19 minutes on their next three. Although only one of those drives would result in points for the Rams, it kept the 49ers’ offense off the field.
Despite having the ball for less than nine minutes and running only 20 offensive plays, the San Francisco offense was explosive enough to nearly match the Rams yardage total for the half and outscored Los Angeles 10-7.
With the game in the balance late in the second half, one team made plays while the other couldn’t. The Rams were able to score points on their last two offensive possessions, not including when they were running out the clock to end the game.
Meanwhile, the 49ers offense was held scoreless. An offensive line that was known to have issues in pass protection was overwhelmed, and the quarterback who doesn’t make many plays when having to scramble threw four incompletions, completed one pass for negative yardage and finally the game-ending interception while being pressured on seven of his last nine attempts.
To get so close to the ultimate goal and come up short understandably creates frustration, however the fact that this team found itself playing for an NFC Championship was remarkable.
A 3-5 start to the season left caused many to lose hope. There were calls for Kyle Shanahan to be fired, Jimmy Garoppolo to be benched, Fred Warner and George Kittle to be traded.
Instead of folding, the roster rallied around one another and ran off 11 wins over their next 13 games. Although they fell one step short, there is honor in what the 2021 49ers were able to accomplish.
While there are several questions facing the San Francisco roster their core players, Fred Warner, Nick Bosa, Jimmie Ward, Emmanuel Moseley, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Trent Williams are set to return.
Trey Lance showed growth from his first start in week 5 to his second start in week 17 when he led the 49ers to a must-have win over Houston. Fellow rookie Elijah Mitchell proved he could carry the load for San Francisco’s running game. Ambry Thomas proved he can be a starter in the secondary, and Talanoa Hufanga contributed throughout the year.
2021 may not have ended how they wanted, but the future is bright for San Francisco.