Sam Darnold isn't treating Week 18 vs. Rams as a meaningless game (and here's why)

Sam Darnold is finally going to get his first extensive field time in a Niners uniform in an otherwise meaningless game.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

49ers-Rams opening. 42. 49ers -3.5. 9-7. 51. Fox. Sunday, Jan. 7. 11-4. 4:25 p.m. ET

The regular-season finale between the 49ers and Rams will have zero impact on either team's playoff standings, but it does matter to this backup quarterback.

Week 18's NFC West bout between the 11-4 San Francisco 49ers and the 9-7 Los Angeles Rams at Levi's Stadium means little.

The Niners are locked in as the No. 1 seed in the conference playoff picture, while LA is a Wild Card team in the sixth seed and can neither move up or down in the standings.

So, not surprisingly, both teams are preparing to rest a good number of their key starters, although head coach Kyle Shanahan has been pretty vague about which players San Francisco will end up sitting for the bout on Sunday.

One player Shanahan was sure about, though, was quarterback Brock Purdy. After the second-year pro's historic season in which he found himself in the MVP discussion, Shanahan and the 49ers want nothing to do with extra injury risk.

Especially after what happened to Purdy in the NFC Championship game a year ago.

With Purdy out, that means No. 2 quarterback Sam Darnold will get his first start of the year and will see his first serious stretch of meaningful snaps in a Niners uniform.

Think Week 18 isn't important? Try telling that to Darnold.

Meaningless 49ers-Rams game should mean a lot to Sam Darnold

With Purdy preparing for the playoffs and getting a break on Sunday, Darnold will be taking the field for a full four quarters in meaningful non-preseason football.

Sure, the outcome won't impact standings. But all that talk about being able to thrive in Shanahan's offense with even a handful of available playmakers on Sunday carries some weight.

Considering Darnold, the former No. 3 overall pick of the NFL Draft, is only with San Francisco on a one-year deal, he might as well treat the game as an audition for his next employer, be it the 49ers or one of the other 31 teams out there potentially seeking his services.

Related story: 49ers reportedly won't face Rams QB Matthew Stafford in Week 18

Sunday's game could go a long way toward erasing the painful memories of his flameout with the team that drafted him, the New York Jets, and it could also help alleviate the inconsistencies from his second team, the Carolina Panthers.

Even if it's just one game with a mix-and-match group of offensive players against a Rams team that is also resting a good chunk of its own starters, performing well should mean a lot for Darnold.

If for no other reason than performing poorly would be disastrous at this point in his career, which faces plenty of uncertainty after this season.

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