SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers came into Week 15 atop the NFC and in the driver’s seat for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
The Atlanta Falcons have not been in playoff contention at any point this season.
But the Falcons proved in recent weeks to be dangerous to two of the top teams in the NFC.
After beating the New Orleans Saints on the road last month, they upset the 49ers, 29-22, at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday.
The 49ers quickly were brought back down to earth after their exhilarating 48-46 victory over the Saints last week.
Letdown? New Orleans hangover? What the heck happened?
“I think that team played better than us today,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I didn’t see our guys not playing hard. I think our guys played hard, but [the Falcons] played better and coached better.”
Here are the 49ers’ grades from their Week 15 loss to the Falcons:
The 49ers used their running game as part of a 21-play, 88-yard drive that ended in a touchdown in the second quarter. But the consistency was not there to keep the chains moving throughout the game.
Raheem Mostert gained 54 yards on 14 carries. Tevin Coleman had 40 yards on four attempts, but 37 of those yards came on one run. Matt Breida struggled with 11 yards on four carries, and also committed a costly fumble in the fourth quarter as the 49ers were driving for a score.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was not at his best, but he certainly is not the reason the 49ers lost this game. He completed 22 of 34 passes for 200 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
The pass protection was spotty, though Garoppolo was sacked just one time in the game. Vic Beasley beat left tackle Joe Staley with an inside pass-rush move early on.
George Kittle was outstanding with 13 catches for 134 yards, but he had an unforced fumble late in the game on a play in which it looked as if he would be able to pick up a key first down to help the 49ers run out the clock.
The wide receivers were nonexistent. Deebo Samuel had one drop. His only reception went for 29 yards. Emmanuel Sanders had two catches for nine yards. Kendrick Bourne had a drop, and he had just one reception for 11 yards.
The 49ers’ run defense did a good job on Devonta Freeman, who picked up just 39 yards on 12 carries. Some of the biggest plays from the Falcons' running game came from quarterback Matt Ryan, who scrambled for 27 yards on five attempts.
Linebacker Fred Warner led the 49ers’ defense with nine tackles, including one stop for a loss.
When the game was on the line, the 49ers could not stop the Falcons from marching down the field for the winning points. That’s what this game was all about.
The best player on the field was wide receiver Julio Jones. He caught 13 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. The 49ers did not have an answer for Jones at the goal line.
Jones posted up against 49ers safety Jimmie Ward at the goal line. He did just enough to screen off Ward and catch the pass that broke the plane of the goal line for the game-winning touchdown.
Sheldon Day and Nick Bosa broke through for sacks, but the 49ers’ pass rush did not dominate this game like they had hoped against an inferior Atlanta offensive line. There were no takeaways in the passing game.
Overall, for all four quarters, the 49ers do not deserve a failing grade. But the fact that they gave up back-to-back 75- and 70-yard touchdown drives in the fourth quarter at the worst possible times locks in this failing mark ...
There were plenty of good things that the 49ers did on special teams. Mitch Wishnowsky had good hang time on his punts, and his 41.3-yard net average was in keeping with what he has done this season.
The 49ers also forced a takeaway on special teams when Ross Dwelley stripped punt returner Kenjon Barner of the ball. Kyle Juszczyk recovered, and two plays later he scored on a 1-yard pass from Garoppolo.
Mostert also was his usual impressive self as a gunner on punt coverage.
But Robbie Gould missed an extra point in the fourth quarter when he hooked it wide. That seemed to signal a change in momentum. Instead of a 10-point lead, it was nine.
It is easy to see why the 49ers would have struggled in this game. But they had to do a lot of things wrong in order to lose it. Yes, the Falcons are not the pushovers that their record suggests. They played a carefree brand of football and seemed energized and excited about this game.
The 49ers might not have taken the Falcons lightly, but they did not bring the same energy that they brought to that exciting showdown last week in New Orleans. That is understandable.
But the 49ers lacked the workmanlike performance that good teams put together that enable them to win games when they are not able to muster their A-game. Now, the 49ers have no wiggle room if they have any hopes of winning the NFC West and earning home-field advantage in the playoffs.