Sam Darnold good enough in otherwise meaningless 49ers Week 18 loss to Rams

Meaningful football for the Niners will resume in two weeks.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages
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Final. 12-5. 42. 49ers-Rams final. 10-7. 51

Sam Darnold certainly wasn't bad during the 49ers' Week 18 home loss to the Rams, and that might do him some good this offseason.

Week 18's matchup between the visiting Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers felt a lot like a preseason game.

Because, in a way, it was a pre-postseason game.

Win or lose, the outcome of the regular-season finale had zero bearing on either team's playoff outlook. The Niners were already locked into the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture, whereas LA is the sixth seed.

Both teams elected to rest their starting quarterbacks, Matthew Stafford of the Rams and Brock Purdy of the 49ers, and plenty of other starters and key players either saw limited field time or were held back from the game entirely.

So, yes. The 21-20 defeat for the Niners felt a lot like a meaningless preseason game.

Except it wasn't meaningless for Purdy's backup, quarterback Sam Darnold.

A free agent to be once this season concludes, Darnold is hoping his one-year tenure with San Francisco can translate into a larger, longer-term deal in 2024. And performing well in what was his first-ever start with the 49ers could go a long way toward landing that kind of contract.

49ers lose to Rams, but Sam Darnold performs well

Granted, plenty of Los Angeles' defensive starters were on the bench for Week 18, but Darnold still had to execute.

On the day, the former No. 3 overall NFL Draft pick went 16-of-26 for 189 yards, one touchdown through the air, another on the ground and a passer rating of 96.5.

And his 5-yard passing touchdown to wide receiver Ronnie Bell was quite the dart:

He could have had some bigger numbers, too, if it weren't for a couple of key drops by his receivers on some deep passes. And he couldn't do much in the fourth quarter behind second- and third-string offensive linemen.

"I thought he did a lot of really good things," head coach Kyle Shanahan said of Darnold postgame.

Granted, Darnold might not be a highly sought-after quarterback this offseason, and it's entirely possible the 49ers make it a priority to re-sign him.

That said, Week 18's performance could have at least guaranteed that someone will call once free agency hits this spring. And in the short term, the Niners know they at least have a moderately competent backup for the playoffs.

This and that from 49ers vs. Rams

Despite being active for the game, tight end George Kittle didn't even dress for the contest.

With the win, the Rams ended the regular-season losing streak of nine games in a row, dating back to 2018.

Second-year safety Tayler Hawkins, up from the practice squad in relief of injured defensive back Tashaun Gipson, played his first regular-season NFL game and also recorded his first interception, grabbing the ball off a deflected pass from Rams quarterback Carson Wentz.

Rookie kicker Jake Moody missed a field-goal try from 38 yards out, and he also missed an extra-point attempt, the latter being the first miss of this kind after 60 successful tries to start his NFL career.

The Niners won't play on Wild Card weekend, having secured the top seed in the conference, meaning they'll await the lowest-seeded team from next weekend's crop of winners for the divisional round, which will be on the weekend of Jan. 20 and 21.

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