Let’s start with the good news: the San Francisco 49ers clinched a playoff spot today. Now the bad news: that same 49ers team were upset, 29-22, to the now 5-9 Atlanta Falcons.
“We had a number of opportunities and came up short on a few,” said 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan. “I know we’re going to watch the tape and there’s going to be a number of plays we’d like to have back. But, I take my hat off to those guys. They played hard and had a real good plan.”
They still control their destiny, but this was a wake up call to a team that plays a division rival in a few short days.
“If we don’t play at our level, like we played last week or like we’ve played all season, anybody can get beat on any Sunday,” said tight end George Kittle. “We definitely have to play better. I don’t think we played with any type of intensity that we’ve been playing all year. We’ve got to figure out that…I hope our team learns from this game that if we don’t bring the intensity, then it will be a quick season ending.”
How It Ended
It was a rather eventful ending to the game. With 0:08 left, it looked as if Falcons’ tight end Austin Hooper scored, but the replay showed it was incomplete.
“We see that the player gets control of the football, he gets two feet down, but he doesn’t make a football move,” said NFL Senior VP of Officiating, Al Riveron. “The ball actually takes him to the ground. This is the one remaining situation where you have two steps, but if you don’t have a football move, you’re going to the ground, you must survive the ground. In this situation, he takes the ball, it hits the ground and then he loses control of the football when he comes back up. Therefore, it’s an incomplete pass.”
It didn’t matter, though, as Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was able to connect with Julio Jones on a five-yard touchdown pass that was first ruled short and then reviewed and ruled a touchdown.
“I was confident [that I stopped him], but at the same time, I didn’t know how close he was to the goal line,” said Jimmie Ward, who made the tackle on Jones. “It was a bang-bang play.”
Jones was a one-man wrecking crew of the 49ers’ defense, finishing the day with 13 receptions on 20 targets for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
The 49ers’ secondary definitely missed Richard Sherman, Jaquiski Tartt, and K’Waun Williams today, but it’s worth mentioning that Marcell Harris, in his second start replacing Tartt, had multiple key pass break-ups today, including one late in the game.
Despite a 21 play, 10:43 scoring drive that spanned over the first and second quarters, the 49ers’ offense could never get into a rhythm.
“I don’t think anybody stuck out and played bad or poorly, but I don’t think anybody played good enough to win,” said Shanahan. “Definitely starts with me. I thought Jimmy had some good plays. Missed a couple like guys always do. I give a lot of credit to them. I thought their guys played hard and did a good job schematically with their plan. I thought they had a hell of a day and we need to be on our stuff to win and we weren’t.”
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was off most of the game, finishing the day 22-0f-34 for 200 yards and a touchdown.
“I wouldn’t say it was one specific thing,” Garoppolo said. “I think it was just things going wrong, us not making plays when we needed to, just little things like that here and there that throughout the course of a game, they add up. Just little mistakes that we can’t make.”
The one member of the offense that did have a great day, despite a third-down fumble late in the game that made it 4th and 1 forcing the 49ers to kick a field goal, was Kittle, who had 13 receptions for 134 yards. He also broke Mike Ditka’s record for most receiving yards (2,774) by a tight end during the first three seasons of his career. Kittle now has 2,780.
As linebacker Fred Warner said, the 49ers are “Onto LA” with the Rams coming to Levi’s Stadium Saturday night. Kittle said he wished was playing “now.”
“Any loss is frustrating,” Garoppolo said. “This one, just how it happened and everything that went along with it, but yeah, having a short week this week will be good for us. Kind of turn the page and move on.”
And About That Playoff Spot
Though they clinched a playoff spot, doing so because another team lost isn’t the same as doing so with a win.
“It’s a nice consolation, but we didn’t handle business today,” said defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. “Thank God it’s a short week, we can go onto the Rams. But we’ve got to look at this loss hard and fix our corrections because they played hard today.”
Offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey had similar thoughts.
“We would have liked to have been on a victory and had done that,” McGlinchey said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t, but we’re in the dance now and we got to close out these next two weeks and hopefully put ourselves in position for a nice road to the Super Bowl.”
It was evident that this loss hurt, and everyone took responsibility.
“I didn’t win my rushes. I did the wrong things on a couple plays and I just needed to be more of an impact player,” said defensive lineman Nick Bosa, who did have a sack, two quarterback hits, and a tackle for loss.
With two games left, one at home against the Rams and one away against the Seahawks (which is probably the one that decides the NFC West), the 49ers need to look at today and figure out exactly what went wrong.
“Whoever you play, if you want to win you have to play and coach better than we did today,” Shanahan said. “Again, I give those guys credit because it wasn’t like we played terrible, but we didn’t play good enough to beat that team. They played better than us. We have a short week here with the Rams coming in. On a short week, I know how important it is for guys to recover, get tomorrow off, just their bodies, really be smart on how they live their life every single day right here. Everything matters right now and you get towards the end of the year, there’s not a lot of guys left, guys are wearing down. Everything is about right now, so our guys need to bring their best. It’s not just what you do on Sunday, it’s what you do every single day to prepare for Sunday.”