Despite tough loss, the 49ers future is bright

San Francisco 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward (1) chases Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) during the NFL NFC Championship game, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022 in Inglewood, Calif. The Rams defeated the 49ers 20-17. (AP Photo/Doug Benc)

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.

This article has 18 Comments

  1. Its an interesting thing. SF has a lot of talent but also has a lot of areas that they can improve.
    – If this defense had a db that they trusted to eliminate a number 2 reciever, I think it gives them a lot more flexibility. Of course all fans want a shutdown corner but they are very rare, just adding a quality starter back there should help. They also need to add a nickle given K’waun is likely gone.
    – The Oline, while their pff numbers look good, this an area where I think their grades are way off. Any time this Oline is put in must pass situations it has been rough. This is true of a lot of teams, but this an obvious area of improvement for this team.
    – I can’t believe I am going to say this but RB. When Mostert went down they lost a major explosive element. I like Mitchell but he doesn’t scare teams. Mostert made run blitzes problematic because any miss meant a potential house call. I am not sure if you want to bring him back or not given his injury issues but I would like an explosive element back there. Constantly using Deebo as a running back also takes away a threat to get behind them.
    – Also because I am selfish, I would like to add an edge rusher to pair with Bosa.
    Overall, like Jack said, Its a good team, and should be good next year as well. Probably even a better overall roster withouth Jimmy’s contract on the books. Lance should have a lot to work with we have a lot to be excited about.

    1. Shoup, in addition to your well thought out list I’d add a big question mark in backup QB. Through a series of nicks, Trey had availability issues this last season, his overall durability is an unknown. I’d hate to see a promising season compromised by Mullens/Beathard level play.

      1. Ribico, I hadn’t thought about that it definitely makes sense. Good Point.
        Hopefully they can add an athletic vet who can run the same offense but also help decipher coverages.

    2. Shoup agree with what you said. The oline statement is spot on. I just think it’s hard for most offensive lines to be dominant in both areas. Our olines strength is power football. Leaning on the dline and causing them to fatigue. Which benefits our QB and oline when it’s time to pass. If we get pass happy, it’s not the strength of the oline nor our time. KS has to keep that in mind.

      However, if we can make some updates to get a balanced oline. I’ll take it.

      1. KY,
        Yeah you can’t be great everywhere… but you’d hope to have a good OT’s and C, your OG’s don’t need to be great in fact one can be bad. But at least one needs to be average. What you really don’t want is two poor players lined up next to each other… as it’s tougher to help them.

  2. 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.

    Jack it’s been all too common throughout 49er history, not just since 2011. Put the team into it’s broader historical perspective. Even in the glory years there were losses aplenty in the Championship (and all playoff rounds).

    1983 Conf Championship, loss to Washington
    1985 Wildcard, loss to NYG
    1986 Division, loss to NYG
    1987 Division, loss to Minn
    1990 Conf Championship, loss to NYG
    1992 Conf Championship, loss to Dallas
    1993 Conf Championship, loss to Dallas
    1995 Division, loss to GB
    1996 Division, loss to GB
    1997 Conf Championship, loss to GB
    1998 Division, loss to Atlanta
    2001 Division, loss to TB
    2011 Conf Championship, loss to NYG

    The most recent as mentioned by Hammer and let’s not even go back further into the 70s.

    A dozen of those playoff losses were on Niners teams led by QB hall of famers, “the long history of superlative QB play” when compared to Niners recent QBs. One wonders of what the predecessors to 49Reasons and his ilk would have had to say then, especially during those 3 consecutive seasons in the ’80s and that horrific stretch in the ’90s.

    The point is, it’s fools game to cry over these latest setbacks, “the Niners are never going to win another superbowl”, “Niners (and in particular JG) are nothing but modern day chokers”.

    1. Thanks for the data Rib. You make an excellent point. I had season tickets for almost all of those years where we endured a lot of disappointment. But I think you’re data points out something that differs in the York era. From 1980 until 2000 (21 years) i took 16 post season appearances to earn 5 SB trophies. In the ensuing York 21 years we have 3 three post season appearances earning 1 SB trip and zero trophies. I guess because of my age I fall into the curmudgeon category because, although I don’t know your age, I suspect that you are enough younger than me to be more patient. I’ll try to be more patient but suspect that I’m going to be more grumpy going forward unless the 49ers record reverts to the mean in record time! One data point I want to add which is purely anecdotal – I remember us being way more critical of the 49ers during those glory years than with the Yorks. I suspect that it’s because John York quickly taught us that they are more like Steve DeBerg than Joe Montana.

  3. Thanks for writing this Jack. Totally agree. Future is bright for San Francisco. Not only from a talent and direction perspective but I also think this team strengthened a winning culture. You can not underestimate the importance cohesion and bond between teammates means to winning. Losing Jimmy will be a hit to leadership but the core is still strong.

  4. Well said Jack. Almost unbelievable that this 3 and 5 team fought through to the NFC championship. Although
    watching that flip to Hasty for the interception, or Tartt’s dropped pick were hard to watch it was a valiant
    effort, and as we go into the off season there is a silver lining. In addition to the great players you mentioned ;
    I believe in Shanahan, Trey Demeco, Aiyuk, Mostert, Juice etc. Looking forward to a big 2022!

  5. Jack ~

    Thanks for the positive and upbeat posting. I, too, look forward to the Niners’ future.

    And I also look forward to your blog next season. You have entertained and educated us this past season and next year no doubt will do that again. Thanks for your clear writing and targeted focus.

  6. Many years ahead for this key group of players:
    Trey Lance QB – 21
    Elijah Mitchell RB – 23
    Brandon Aiyuck WR – 23
    Deebo Samuel WR – 26
    Juan Jennings WR – 24
    George Kittle TE – 28
    Nick Bosa DE – 24
    Javon Kinlaw DL – 24
    Arik Armstead DL – 28
    Fred Warner LB – 25
    Dre Greenlaw LB – 24
    Emmanuel Mosley CB – 25
    Ambry Thomas CB – 22

  7. Can’t help but wonder how bloggers would have reacted had Tartt made the catch that led to a huge momentum shift and touchdown. Would Stafford have been accused of choking? Strange how a handful of plays can define a career. Garoppolo’s rock solid character and team deep team respect along with his won-loss record should be how he is remembered, not his last pass or one overthrow in the Super Bowl.

  8. If we could extend (and we should) Bosa and Deebo this offseason then we have a great young all world talents in key positions. We have to be creative in building this team around those big contracts even after unloading JG’s salary. The good news is Lance will be cheaper the next couple of years. But this team after the Bosa and Deebo extension signing will be top heavy. The management will have to earn their money in adding good complimentary players to fit the salary cap.

    1. Luckily, in extending Bosa and Deebo, the niners should be able to structure their contracts in a way that it doesn’t really affect the teams cap numbers this next year.
      Even, then though with only 32 players signed though next season, this team will need to be creative in filling out their roster especially considering they will need to add starters. I really hope Jimmy adds at least a late second early 3rd, as rookies can add talent on the cheap.

  9. Three in five trips since 2011. Come on man.
    As for the team we could use some depth RB (I’d like to see Mostert resigned), O-line and secondary depth. If Jimmy is gone we need a better backup QB. We should be deep in the playoffs for years to come.

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