San Francisco had all of the makings of a Hollywood underdog story, until a late-fourth quarter collapse ultimately handed the Los Angeles Rams the victory, ending the 49ers magical season.
"I'm so proud of those guys. I love this team," head coach Kyle Shanahan said postgame. "Every year is a different team and this is as cool of a team as I've ever been a part of. Came up short today and that's part of sports and part of life and you've got to deal with it. So those guys are hurting now but they'll rebound and we'll be stronger for it."
Here are a few takeaways from the 20-17 loss:
First Half Magic
The 49ers and Rams exchanged three-and-outs to open the game. On Los Angeles' ensuing possession, their offense drove down the field with clutch receptions by Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee and Odell Beckham Jr. Inside of the 49ers 5 yard line on 3rd-and-goal, Matthew Stafford threw a pass to the front of the end zone intended for Kupp that was batted by K'Waun Williams and intercepted by Jimmie Ward.
Ward's pick marked his third of the year, all against Stafford.
Nick Bosa recorded a sack on the Rams ensuing drive, but Los Angeles struck first in their 18-play, 97-yard drive with a 16-yard pass from Stafford to Kupp in the back of the end zone. The drive chipped off more than nine and a half minutes off the clock, reminiscent of San Francisco's opening drive in Week 10 (18 plays, 93 yards, 11:03 off the clock).
San Francisco responded with a 4-play, 75-yard drive that featured a 31-yard bomb from Jimmy Garoppolo to Brandon Aiyuk to move the 49ers to midfield. Two plays later, Garoppolo connected with Deebo Samuel on a throw behind the line of scrimmage where the wideout dodged several tackles en route to an impressive 44-yard touchdown.
The 49ers were able to put points on the board going into the half, in part thanks to a missed Matt Gay 54-yard field goal. With 1:20 on the clock and good field position, Garoppolo made connections with George Kittle and Aiyuk for 11 and 13 yards, respectively to move the 49ers into scoring position. The team settled for a field goal on 3rd-and-6 heading into the half to take a 10-7 lead.
Kevin Givens also notched a quarterback hit against Stafford that led to an incomplete pass.
Shakey Second Half
San Francisco came up short in their attempt to double dip with points, receiving the ball to start the second half. However, the unit got the ball back after a failed 4th-and-1 attempt where Stafford attempted a quarterback sneak but was a half-yard shy of the first down.
The 49ers capitalized off of the Rams decision to not opt for a field goal, orchestrating a 10-play, 56-yard drive that culminated in a 16-yard touchdown from Garoppolo to Kittle. The 49ers made several crucial third-down conversions, including a 13-yard pickup on a slant by Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings fighting for a first down on a 10-yard pickup.
Los Angeles responded driving down the field and cutting San Francisco's lead with a wide-open touchdown pass to Kupp followed by a field goal on their next possession to tie the game.
The 49ers had a chance to seal the game as Stafford lodged a deep ball in the middle of the field with Jaquiski Tartt as the only player within 10 yards of the ball. The safety dropped the wide open interception, giving Los Angeles life.
San Francisco's offense struggled to get much going from there on out. The Rams drove down the field in their final offensive possession of the game, which was halted with a third-down split sack by Bosa and Samson Ebukam to force a Rams field goal to re-take the lead.
With under two minutes to go, the 49ers attempted to make a run down the field, however, Los Angeles' defense continued to get pressure on Garoppolo. On 3rd-and-13, while flushed out of the pocket, Garoppolo lofted a high pass intended for JaMycal Hasty that was picked off and sealed the victory for Los Angeles.
Performances of Note
Samuel finished the day with four receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown and added seven carries for 26 yards.
Aiyuk was second on the team in yards behind Samuel, with 69 yards on four receptions.
Garoppolo finished his outing completing 16-of-30 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns and a pick for an 87.1 passer rating.
Despite the 49ers season ending on a quarterback pressure, San Francisco's O-line kept Garoppolo clean, not yielding a single sack on the day.
It was a heartbreaking ending for San Francisco, who dominated the flow of the game for the majority of the contest. However, it's worth remembering how special of a season it was for San Francisco, who at one point sat at 3-5 with the postseason appearing as a longshot, and going minutes away from a Super Bowl appearance.
Just the character of everybody, just the people. We keep saying it over and over but we really do really like each other in there and just the personalities.. how we fight for each other.. the style that we played with the whole year. That's something that I'm very proud of as a coach because, you can say anything you want, but if you don't have the right people, it doesn't really matter. Those guys do things the right way and wish I had another game with them.
"(I'm proud of) the character of everybody, just the people," Shanahan said. "We keep saying it over and over but we really do like each other in there and just the personalities. How we fight for each other, the style that we played with the whole year. That's something that I'm very proud of as a coach because, you can say anything you want, but if you don't have the right people, it doesn't really matter. Those guys do things the right way and I wish I had another game with them."