49ers

49ers takeaways: What we learned from season-ending 48-32 loss to Rams

49ers

LOS ANGELES -- The 49ers have a lot of ground to gain if they hope to give any kind of challenge to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West next season.

The Rams on Sunday completed their domination of the 49ers this season with a 48-32 victory to wrap up the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

The 49ers lost to the Rams 39-10 on Oct. 21 at Levi’s Stadium. Los Angeles forced four turnovers in that game.

The Rams (13-3) got off to a big lead Sunday, as the 49ers (4-12) committed turnovers on four of their first five possessions.

However, the 49ers did salvage something from their season finale. Second-year tight end George Kittle put an exclamation point on his breakout season with nine catches for 149 yards to set the NFL's single-season record for a tight end with 1,377 yards. Kansas City's Travis Kelce held the mark for less than an hour. He eclisped Rob Gronkowski's 2011 total earlier in the afternoon. Kittle achieved the record on a 43-yard touchdown catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter.

Here are three other takeaways from the season-ending game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum:

Setting records for futility

The biggest takeaway from the 49ers’ season was, well, their lack of takeaways.

In fact, their futility in that area was historic.

The 49ers set the NFL record for fewest takeaways in a season with just seven forced turnovers. The record prior to this season was 11, shared by the Baltimore Colts (1982), Houston Texans (2013), Dallas Cowboys (2015) and Chicago Bears (2016).

 

The 49ers also set the record for fewest interceptions in a season with two. The previous record low was three, set by the Houston Oilers during the nine-game strike-shortened season of 1982.

Antone Exum and Jaquiski Tartt had the 49ers' only interceptions. It was the first time in Richard Sherman’s eight-year NFL career that he did not have one.

No team in the NFL was more generous than the 49ers this season. They entered the season finale with a minus-21 turnover margin. And they added impressively to their league-worst total in the opening minutes of Sunday’s game.

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk made the poor decision to reach the ball out on a third-and-1 play on the 49ers’ first series of the game. Mark Barron stripped the ball, and Aqib Talib scooped it up and returned it 47 yards for the Rams.

Quarterback Nick Mullens threw three first-half interceptions, including a pick-six to Rams linebacker Cory Littleton.

Mullens’ first interception came when he was hit as he was throwing. The other came when John Johnson deflected a pass that was intended for George Kittle in the end zone, and fellow Rams safety Blake Countess made the interception.

Solidifying draft position

The 49ers enter the offseason with their biggest needs being two edge rushers to get after the quarterback on nickel situations. They're well-positioned to add some upgrades, beginning in free agency in March and, then, during the draft in April.

The organization is expected to have in the neighborhood of $70 million in salary cap space. They also wrapped up the No. 2 overall draft pick with this loss to the Rams.

Former Ohio State star Nick Bosa and Kentucky's Josh Allen could be among the options at No. 2. The Cardinals own the top overall selection.

The 49ers will pick ahead of the New York Jets in the first round because of the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker. San Francisco played a weaker schedule to gain the tiebreaker edge over New York.

Building depth at running back

The 49ers had to use every bit of their running back depth, and they appear to be in good position for next season -- if they remain healthier than they did this season.

Their leading rusher Sunday was veteran Alfred Morris, who isn't likely to return next season. He carried 16 times for 111 yards.

Morris signed with the 49ers after the team experienced a rash of injuries during training camp. But he ended up being No. 5 in the pecking order after starting the first game of the season.

Morris was back in the lead-back role in the season finale. Matt Breida went on injured reserve Saturday with an ankle injury, and rookie Jeff Wilson Jr. made his second start of the season Sunday, but he lasted three carries before exiting with a shoulder injury.

 

Jerick McKinnon, Breida, Wilson and Raheem Mostert ended the season injured, but each is expected back next season. Mostert was the team’s best special-teams player before getting his opportunity on offense and proving himself. Mostert’s season ended in Week 9 with a fractured forearm.