49ers disappointed with Falcons loss, but still control playoff destiny

49ers disappointed with Falcons loss, but still control playoff destiny

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers clinched their first playoff appearance since the 2013 season.

Ordinarily, that would be an accomplishment to celebrate.

"That’s cool, but doesn’t make me feel better right now," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.

Nobody in the 49ers’ locker room was in a festive mood after their lackluster 29-22 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

In fact, the longest-tenured member of the team did not even know San Francisco had punched its ticket to the postseason, ending a five-year playoff drought.

“Clinched?” Joe Staley asked. “I didn’t even know that.”

Although the 49ers dropped to 11-3 and from the No. 1 seed in the NFC to No. 5, currently, they are assured of going to the playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks, also 11-3, sit atop the NFC West. The 49ers' postseason spot was guaranteed when the Los Angeles Rams lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 44-21, ensuring that the Rams will not be able to surpass the 49ers for an NFC wild-card spot.

“Yeah, that’s weird,” Staley said. “It doesn’t even feel good. We want to clinch by winning. But the main thing is we have two games left this season and if we take care of business and we play how we know we’re capable of playing in this locker room, we’ll look back on this as a huge learning experience from the season and we’ll carry that forward into the playoffs.”

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed 22 of 34 pass attempts for 200 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. The 49ers were unable to keep their momentum going following their emotional Week 14 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

“It’s mixed emotions right now,” Garoppolo said. “I mean, it’s always good to get in the playoffs and everything but how it happened is tough.”

Tight end George Kittle was lamenting the energy with which the 49ers played on Sunday. But he said the difficult loss to the Falcons can also serve as a valuable reminder to how quickly things can end once the playoffs begin.

“If we don’t play at our level, you know, like we played last week or like we’ve played all season, anybody can get beat on any Sunday, and we definitely have to play better,” Kittle said. “I don’t think we played with any kind of intensity that we’ve been playing all year, and we got to figure out that.”

But, for the 49ers, it is still simple math.

If the team can defeat the Rams on Sunday, then beat the Seahawks in Week 17, the 49ers will win the NFC West, earn the top seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs, as well as receiving a valuable bye week in the postseason. Currently, the Seahawks hold the top spot in the division based on their Nov. 11 overtime victory over the 49ers.

[RELATED: Where 49ers stand in NFC playoff picture after Falcons loss]

“When it’s in your control, it’s a good feeling,” Kittle said. “It’s our first time in the position. We didn’t get it done today. But we’ve played a lot of really good football, and I think we’ll definitely be back to that. And hopefully this lights a little bit of a fire under us.”

2020 NFL Draft: How DeForest Buckner could influence 49ers to trade down

2020 NFL Draft: How DeForest Buckner could influence 49ers to trade down

Whomever the 49ers select with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft will always be compared head-to-head against defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

Little attention will be paid to the contract sizes. Buckner is scheduled to make $21 million annually over the next four seasons, while the choice at No. 13 will check in at approximately $4 million per year over the length of his four-year deal.

This will always go down as a one-for-one trade, however misleading that might be. The 49ers sent Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for their first-round pick in the 2020 draft.

Generally, when teams trade a high-caliber, proven player with many years ahead of him, such as Buckner, they understandably want to parlay that move into acquiring multiple players.

Maybe it’s because of the value of adding two or more players while trading away one player. Maybe it’s because teams want to sidestep those head-to-head comparisons. Maybe they want to avoid placing undo pressure and expectations onto a rookie who has enough to worry about upon entering the NFL.

Most recently, the New England Patriots did this after receiving the 49ers’ pick at No. 43 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft in exchange for Jimmy Garoppolo.

Bill Belichick traded out of No. 43. The Patriots picked up a later selection in the second round in addition to a fourth-rounder. When the draft was over, the Patriots had made four trades involving the original pick and the picks acquired in trades. Good luck trying to figure out, exactly, which players the Patriots acquired in connection with the Garoppolo trade.

The 49ers did the same thing four years earlier after they traded Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs for second-round picks in the 2013 and 2014 drafts.

Then-49ers general manager Trent Baalke flipped those two draft selections in five players -- Tank Carradine, Corey Lemonier, Carlos Hyde and Chris Borland -- along with another trade that enabled them to acquire veteran wide receiver Stevie Johnson.

The 49ers will have plenty of options at different positions with the No. 13 overall pick. If they love a player in that spot, they will undoubtedly make their selection.

Nobody would be surprised if the 49ers address wide receiver, offensive tackle, cornerback and defensive line with any of their top selections.

[RELATED49ers, Raiders go offense/defense in latest mock NFL draft]

But if one or two targeted players are not there when it’s the 49ers’ turn to select in three weeks, they will almost assuredly look to bail out of No. 13. That would allow the 49ers to pick up more selections to take advantage of what is expected to be a deep draft at a number of different positions of need.

And it would also give the 49ers the opportunity to select more than one front-line starter to soften the blow of trading Buckner.

How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance

How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance

Merton Hanks owes his iconic celebration to a place where the air is sweet.

The former 49ers safety revealed to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco in the latest "49ers Insider Podcast" that Hanks' legendary "chicken dance" was not the inspiration for the Bluth family, but an ode to a famous felt figure (not Franklin).

Hanks sat down with his daughter to watch "Sesame Street" during the 1995 season when he saw Bert "Doin' The Pigeon."

"I thought, 'OK, well, let me play around with that," Hanks told Maiocco. "[After messing] around with it in practice, it popped up ... in the Dallas Cowboys game when Elvis Grbac [made] his first start and Jerry Rice had, like, an [81-yard touchdown] to kick things off. It kind of came out in that game."

Hanks picked up a fumble and returned it 38 yards to score within the first two minutes of the 49ers' 38-20 road win over the rival Cowboys on Nov. 12, 1995. San Francisco, then 11 weeks into its Super Bowl title defense after lifting the monkey off Steve Young's back the previous season, needed some swagger.

The "pigeon dance" provided it."Deion Sanders had left (for the Cowboys)," Hanks recalled. "Ricky Watters had left (for the Philadelphia Eagles). My contract was coming up, and we felt like our on-the-field product was pretty solid as far as play, but we needed something to differentiate ourselves."

Hanks spent eight seasons with the 49ers, becoming synonymous with the dance over his final four.

His 31 interceptions are the fourth most in 49ers history, but the dance is what most fans remember. Hanks' jig even transcended football, when eventual Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal incorporated the celebration into his repertoire early in his eight-season stint with the Los Angeles Lakers.

[RELATED: 49ers go offense/defense in latest NFL mock draft]

The 49ers embraced Hanks' era last season by wearing 1994-inspired throwback jerseys. Someone in San Francisco's secondary surely could do Hanks' dance this year, but we'll be left wondering one thing.

Can they also tell us how to get to "Sesame Street?"

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