49ers can feel good about 2021 season despite NFC Championship loss to Rams

Deebo Samuel #19 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts with teammates Kyle Juszczyk #44 and George Kittle #85 (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Deebo Samuel #19 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts with teammates Kyle Juszczyk #44 and George Kittle #85 (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

42. 20. 51. Final. 17

The 49ers ultimately fell short of the Super Bowl in the 2021 season, losing the NFC Championship game to the Rams, but the year was still a success.

San Francisco 49ers fans probably don’t want to hear this right now. But the 2021 season has to go down as a Niners success.

Seriously, it was.

True, it sucks San Francisco held a 10-point lead over the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship game, only to collapse in the fourth quarter en route to a 20-17 defeat and a lost chance to face off against the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. And by nearly every measure, not being the last team standing in the season is a failure.

Except when it isn’t, at least when taking in all the context.

Case in point, if we were to go back all the way to May and look at FanSided NFL insider Matt Verderame’s game-by-game predictions for the entire league in 2021, he predicted the Niners would go 10-7 and be eliminated in the Wild Card round.

Truth be told, San Francisco wasn’t projected to be a Super Bowl contender. A playoff contender, perhaps. But not the team that’d have a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 13.

The 49ers exceeded those expectations by beating the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild Card round, then by pulling off a surprise road win over the No. 1-seeded Green Bay Packers in the divisional round.

If you want to talk about failed expectations, look no further than quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Or even the team the Rams beat, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quarterback Tom Brady. Heck, even the Kansas City Chiefs being beaten by Cincy in the AFC Championship game, too.

Those were worse losses. The Niners had been playing with “house money” ever since beating Dallas.

They exceeded expectations.

49ers overcame tumult with Jimmy Garoppolo, a perceived ‘lost season’ at 3-5

Let’s rewind back to Week 9. San Francisco was, at that point, a lowly 3-5 and had zero answers in the wake of a four-game losing streak and uninspiring losses in games it clearly had the opportunity at winning.

For all intents and purposes, the 49ers were staring right in the face of missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years under head coach Kyle Shanahan.

It’s unknown how much of a factor it played. But it was certainly a part of the Niners’ struggles, the reality they were poised to move on from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo after moving up aggressively to grab rookie quarterback Trey Lance at No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Garoppolo had his up-and-down moments. In the end, though, his gutsiness in Week 18 against those same Rams was a key reason why San Francisco got into the playoffs in the first place.

“We’ll see what happens in these next couple days, weeks, whatever,” Garoppolo told reporters after the game. “I love this team, just fighting and battling with this team throughout the entire year has been really impressive.”

Garoppolo is likely gone after this season, paving the way for Lance to become the team’s franchise signal-caller.

Read More: 4 best fits for Jimmy Garoppolo (if he leaves 49ers)

And while Garoppolo’s final play, a game-sealing interception in the fourth quarter, won’t be how he’d like to remember it, he did play a major role in getting the 49ers back into the playoff picture.

Give credit where it’s due.

49ers 2021 season and postseason run was still awesome

The Niners knocked off two of their chief rivals in the playoffs, the Cowboys and Packers. No small feat, especially considering both games were on the road.

However, there were far more other notable moments and events over the course of the season that’ll make 2021 memorable.

Such as:

  • WR Deebo Samuel‘s 1,770 yards from scrimmage
  • Five 49ers players named to the Pro Bowl: Deebo Samuel, EDGE Nick Bosa, LT Trent Williams, TE George Kittle, FB Kyle Juszczyk
  • Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams named first-time first-team All-Pros
  • Nick Bosa’s 15.5 sacks and league-best 21 tackles for a loss
  • RB Elijah Mitchell’s rookie franchise-record 963 rush yards

Each of those players are going to be on San Francisco’s roster for a long time, and there’s little reason to suspect Shanahan’s offense will take a major hit.

Additionally, first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ unit looked like a weakness early on, all before finishing the regular season with the NFL’s third-best defense in terms of yards allowed.

And this unit allowed an average of just 18.7 points per game in the playoffs. It’s safe to assume he’s a pretty good coordinator.

Sure, the end result wasn’t what the 49ers or their fans wanted. But in light of the original predictions and how awful things were earlier this season, the end result turned out to be a lot better than it easily could have been.

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