SANTA CLARA — When the San Francisco 49ers arrived at training camp back in July, the bitter taste of last season’s postseason disappointment still lingered over the team.
Now that they have finished the regular season as the No. 1 seed in the NFC following a mostly meaningless 21-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, they can really start turning their attention to changing their playoff disappointments.
“We’re right where we want to be,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “We’re the No. 1 seed. Obviously it’s never perfect. We’re still going to try to improve with the opportunities we have and go out there whenever we play the week after next and try to keep the season alive.”
The 49ers’ past two seasons ended with losses in the NFC title game. They fell to the eventual champion Rams in the 2021 season and then at Philadelphia last season in a frustrating loss because quarterback Brock Purdy injured his elbow on the opening drive and San Francisco was forced to play a large portion of the game without a functioning quarterback.
Purdy returned this season and played at an even higher level, throwing for 4,280 yards, 31 TDs and a league-best 113 passer rating.
Purdy was one of several key players who got the day off on Sunday, when the focus was on staying healthy for the playoffs.
Shanahan was wary of the lack of urgency for the season finale, so he stressed hard practices last week to keep his team sharp.
“Our goal was to get the No. 1 seed, that was our first and foremost goal. We did,” Shanahan said. “It was just a little bit weird this last week, but I like how our guys handled it. I loved how our year went. We set out to do this. I was real happy with a number of guys. I thought guys got better throughout the year, but as our players have been saying, we still feel our best football’s forward.”
The Niners (12-5) will get some rest early this week, then plan on two hard practices late in the week before finding out their opponent in the divisional round.
“I feel like this is just going to be a great week for us to just get better as a team so we make sure that we’re the best version of ourselves for when that moment comes,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “Whoever has to come to Levi’s (Stadium), I want us to be ready. I want us to be our best version of ourselves when that time comes.”
What’s Working and What Needs Help
Staying healthy. The Niners’ main goal in the season finale was staying healthy and they mostly did just that, with the only notable injury coming when defensive end Clelin Ferrell left in the first half with a knee injury that could sideline him for at least the playoff opener.
Kicking game. What was mostly a strong rookie season ended on a bad note for kicker Jake Moody. He missed a 38-yard field goal for his first missed kick of any kind since Week 7 at Minnesota. He then missed his first extra point of the season after making his first 60. Shanahan said there are no plans to look at other kickers before the playoffs.
“He’s been great all year,” Shanahan said. “He was rough on those two today, but no, we’re good with Jake.”
Stock Up and Stock Down
RB Elijah Mitchell. For a second straight week, Mitchell carried a big load with Christian McCaffrey out with a calf injury. Mitchell led the team with 52 yards rushing and scored a TD for the second straight game. McCaffrey doesn’t take many plays off when he’s healthy, but Mitchell is showing he can be depended on if Shanahan wants to change the look.
RG Spencer Burford. The second-year guard has struggled at times this season and could be in danger of losing his starting spot in the playoffs with left guard Aaron Banks healthy again and backup Jon Feliciano having played well in relief.
McCaffrey should be back for the playoff opener. … DT Arik Armstead is hopeful of returning after missing the final five games of the regular season with a foot injury.
76 — The 49ers finished the season with 76 points scored on the opening drive of the game, with 10 TDs and two field goals. That’s the most points scored on the opening drive for any team since at least 2000, topping the 73 scored by Green Bay in a 16-game season in 2020.
San Francisco hosts a team in the divisional round on Jan. 20 or Jan. 21. The Niners will play the lowest remaining seed out of Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, the Rams and Green Bay.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl