Linebacker Fred Warner was one of the 49ers’ breakout stars during the 2019 season.
He led the team with 118 tackles during the regular season, to go along with three sacks. As the middle linebacker, and the player who relays the defensive signals to the huddle, he also took another step toward being a leader. And for a while it looked as if he made a play to remember in Super Bowl LIV when he intercepted a pass from Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the third quarter.
The 49ers' offense cashed in to take a 10-point lead.
“I feel like as the year went on, in my second year, I continued to get better and better, and I think that’s what’s key,” Warner said. “Hopefully . . . not hopefully, I’m going to make sure that I start off next year the way I left this year or make sure I’m even better.
“I don’t want to take any steps back. Because you’re never the same. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. I want to make sure I’m better.”
The 49ers let a 10-point fourth-quarter lead slip away as the Chiefs outscored the 49ers 21-0 in the final seven minutes of the Super Bowl. It was a loss that is going to stick with the team for a long, long time. The only way to get past it, Warner said, is to begin making improvements for the future.
“It sucks, but you can’t sit and dwell about it for too long because you’re just wasting time,” Warner said. “I want to get back to work. I want to be able to become a much better player than I was this season. And I know I will. It all starts now.”
Three days after the loss, coach Kyle Shanahan held a meeting at the 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara, during which he spoke to the team about all that was accomplished in 2019 and into 2020. The 49ers bounced back from a 4-12 season in 2018 to go 13-3, win the NFC West, earn homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs, then tear off two 17-point victories to reach the Super Bowl.
“Being so close, then falling short, it hurts a lot,” Warner said. “But I think the biggest thing I’ve taken from it is that we’re going to be a lot better next season. We have to be if we want to win the thing. I think we have a great plan. We have a great team.
“It was special to talk about the things that went well. There was a lot to talk about. It was a great season. (We) just talked about going into next season and our expectations of ourselves and we’re excited for the future. It’s really bright. We had an outstanding year this year, and we’re excited to get back to it next season.”
There will be some comings and goings during the offseason, but the nucleus of the 49ers’ roster is under contract and will return. And most of team consists of ascending players, such as Warner.
Warner began to receive recognition around the league for his play in the middle of the 49ers’ defense last season, but when he watches himself, he constantly sees areas in which he believes he can improve.
“Everybody talks about it was a good season, but I feel I can be so, so much better,” Warner said. “That’s what’s exciting to me. I know that’s how a lot of guys in that locker room feel.”