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.
“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.”