The 49ers blew it. They had their chances, and Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t even throw an interception until the final seconds. But when it mattered, San Francisco crumbled, and the Rams’ absurd combination of Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp was too much to bear.
San Francisco’s chance to make their second Super Bowl in three years goes by the wayside with a 20-17 loss. Their ownership of the Rams is over, and so is their season.
For much of the game, it seemed like they would pull the rabbit out of their hat like they had so many times. Such was not the case, and it was not deserved.
In the first half, the 49ers got out of dodge after they should have been burned multiple times.
Jimmy Garoppolo opened with a missed huge play to George Kittle deep over the middle of the field, in what could have been a touchdown. He also had a very dangerous throw to Brandon Aiyuk in double coverage which was nearly picked off.
But aside from Matthew Stafford hitting Cooper Kupp on a typically absurd catch and throw in the back right corner of the end zone, the 49ers weren’t punished.
The weren’t punished even as they failed, continually, to not stop the Rams on third down, especially on long situations. Before the Rams’ final offensive play, they were 11-for-17 on third downs, converting all five of their third downs from third and six-plus yards.
As usual, when teams don’t capitalize on Garoppolo’s bad throws, they suffer. San Francisco’s first touchdown drive was set up by an absolute dime of a ball down the left sideline to Brandon Aiyuk, and was followed up with some absurdity on a tunnel screen to Deebo Samuel.
The Rams also bailed San Francisco out twice on the final drive of the first half. Cooper Kupp’s eyes were bigger than his hands, apparently, as he ripped away from tight press coverage by K’Waun Williams and dropped a ball with acres of space ahead, on a would-be reception with touchdown potential.
He responded with an incredible catch that set up a first down, but two plays later, Ben Skowronek dropped an over-the-shoulder, wide open touchdown grab after Jimmie Ward completely lost track of the ball and Skowronek.
That drive finished with a deep incompletion to Odell Beckham Jr. and a bad miss short and to the right from 54 yards by Matt Gay.
Instead of a 10-7 Rams lead, it set up the 49ers at roughly midfield for a half-ending field goal drive.
After a massive hit on Deebo Samuel that knocked him out, somehow, for just one play, Jimmy Garoppolo found George Kittle over the middle for a huge third-down conversion, followed by a JaMycal Hasty checkdown, and a patient slant completion to Brandon Aiyuk.
That Samuel injury situation caused the 49ers to burn a timeout, and resulted in them not taking a late shot at the end zone. Instead, Robbie Gould knocked in a half-ending 38-yard field goal to put San Francisco up 10-7.
The 49ers wasted their half-opening drive, and the Rams responded with a 46-yard drive that ended in failure. Stafford, who has looked iffy on quarterback sneaks, failed to get one on 4th-and-1.
San Francisco responded with a 10-play, 58-yard touchdown drive capped off by an excellent, leaping touchdown grab by George Kittle to extend the lead to 10.
That would not have been possible without an outstanding catch by Jauan Jennings on a ball thrown behind him. He was a few yards short of the sticks and fought forward for an 11-yard gain.
But the Rams came right back with a touchdown of their own, as usual, with Kupp getting a one-on-one matchup to Williams — who tried and failed to press him — and winning, easily.
The 49ers’ response was, err, timid. Kyle Shanahan tried to get far too creative, putting Trent Williams in motion for a third-and-2 fullback dive, which failed. It resulted in a Rams challenge, and them burning their final timeout of the game.
Instead of taking that chance to go for it on fourth down, Shanahan opted for a delay of game. That immediately turned into a game-tying Rams drive, courtesy of a 40-yard field goal from Gay.
What looms ever so large is that Stafford tried to give the game away, and Jaquiski Tartt just dropped it. It would have been a third-straight game against the 49ers with a deep interception from Stafford. Instead, the Rams took that chance to tie the game.
And the 49ers’ response? Abysmal.
The biggest moment of the game saw San Francisco’s absolute bottom-barrel worst drive. Three-straight incompletions, one delay of game, and one near delay. It was cataclysmic.
It necessitated a blow from the Rams, and the 49ers received one, as they charged down the field for a game-winning field goal made possible with an incredible chunk catch from who else but Kupp.
The wasted chance and conservative calls from Shanahan will be rued: Tartt’s drop and the decision to run a fullback dive followed by a punt, instead of going for it on fourth down.
But even after all that, and the Rams taking a 20-17 lead, San Francisco got one last chance, with 1:46 on the clock and one timeout.
They fell apart again. A near pick, then a negative completion and a Garoppolo tipped interception concluded the game. It was a disastrous end to the game and the season for a team which seemed like they just might pull off the unthinkable. It was not to be.