With the NFC's top seed secured in Week 17, the San Francisco 49ers entered their regular season finale against the Los Angeles Rams with no playoff implications on the line. As a result, the red and gold had a unique opportunity to rest starting quarterback Brock Purdy and several of their injured playmakers in an effort to get the team as healthy as possible for the NFC Divisional Round. The 49ers will close the 2023 slate with a 12-5 record following Sunday's 21-20 loss to Los Angeles.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday's game:
RB Elijah Mitchell Finds the End Zone First
The third-year running back was tasked with heading up the 49ers ground game with Christian McCaffrey (calf) inactive against the Rams, and he wasted no time getting to work. Mitchell had five touches on the 49ers opening drive including a one-yard rush into the end zone to get San Francisco on the board with 7:27 left in the first quarter. His touchdown run capped off a 12-play, 75-yard offensive series for the 49ers.
Mitchell followed up his 17-carry, 80-yard and one touchdown performance in Week 17 with even more impressive numbers in the finale. He racked up 14 carries for 52 yards and a touchdown on the ground in addition to his two catches for 15 yards through the air.
After making nine appearances in relief over the course of the season, Darnold got his first start for San Francisco with Purdy ruled out of the Week 18 game. San Francisco entered the regular season finale with a league-high 69 points scored on opening possessions, and Darnold helped add seven points to that total on Sunday. He went five-for-five in pass attempts for 49 yards on the way to Mitchell's one-yard rushing touchdown on the opening drive.
Darnold amassed several splash plays early, including a scramble completion to tight end Charlie Woerner for 20 yards in the first quarter and a deep ball to wide receiver Chris Conley for 48-yard gain to set up Ronnie Bell's five-yard receiving touchdown just before halftime. Darnold even barreled for a one-yard touchdown of his own in the second quarter. He completed 16-of-26 passes for 189 yards, a touchdown and 96.5 passer rating against the Rams.
S Tayler Hawkins Makes NFL Debut and Notches First-Career INT
Hawkins' NFL debut was made all the more memorable after the second-year safety notched his first-career interception in the second quarter of Sunday's contest. Rams quarterback Carson Wentz threw a pass intended for wideout Tutu Atwell that was deflected into the air, and Hawkins laid out to make the diving catch. He set San Francisco's offense up on the 36 yard line for the ensuing possession.
Special Teams Mishaps
Kicker Jake Moody had an uncharacteristic outing versus Los Angeles, failing to hit on a 38-yard field goal attempt and an extra point attempt in the first half. The missed field goal attempt is Moody's first since Week 7 against the Minnesota Vikings and the missed extra point is the rookie's first of the 2023 season. He is 60-of-61 in extra point attempts this season.
Injuries of the Game
Staying healthy is the name of the game for the 49ers who are set to host their Divisional Round matchup at some point during the weekend of January 20th. Purdy was San Francisco's only healthy scratch of Week 18 while the rest of the team's Inactives list on Sunday comprised of injured playmakers.
Despite their best efforts, the team did come out of this final regular season matchup with some injuries. Tight end George Kittle and linebacker Dre Greenlaw did not play and were ruled out after experiencing spasms and Achilles tendonitis pregame, respectively. Defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell also made an early exit, suffering a knee injury in the first half that ruled him out for the remainder of the game, and head coach Kyle Shanahan said there is a possibility he misses a game. Hawkins suffered a wrist injury late in the game.