What we learned as 49ers collapse in fourth quarter, lose to Rams


INGLEWOOD — The Los Angeles Rams finally ended the 49ers’ mastery over them.

And they did it when it counted the most.

The Rams rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit and repaid the 49ers for six consecutive regular-season losses over the past three seasons with a 20-17 victory in the NFC Champion Game at SoFi Stadium.

Kicker Matt Gay hit a 30-yard field goal for the winning points with 1:46 remaining.

Jimmy Garoppolo was picked off on a backhanded toss intended for JaMycal Hasty with a minute remaining. Travin Howard made the game-clinching interception.

The Rams beat the 49ers at their own game, as they controlled the clock and kept their defense fresh throughout the game.

The Rams advance to Super Bowl LVI in two weeks in their home stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals, who advanced with a 27-24 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.

Here are three takeaways from the 49ers’ season-ending loss:

Pressure on the QBs

The Rams acquired Matthew Stafford in the offseason for games like this.

It was a contrasting matchup of styles, as the 49ers want to rely on their running game to set up everything. For the Rams, everything runs through Stafford’s right arm.

The 49ers’ pass rush tried to rattle Stafford in the first half, as they applied constant pressure and broke through for one sack from Nick Bosa and a handful of big hits on him.

Stafford completed 31 of 45 passes for 337 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Garoppolo finished his game with 232 yards on 16 of 30 passing with two touchdowns and one critical interception as the 49ers tried to mount a last-minute drive.

Garoppolo came through on a third-quarter drive that gave the 49ers a 10-point lead. He connected to crucial third-down passes to Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings to keep the drive going. Then, he hit tight end George Kittle on a 16-yard touchdown pass with 1:59 remaining in the quarter.

Stafford got a major break in the fourth quarter when strong safety Jaquiski Tartt dropped Stafford’s poorly thrown deep ball deep down the middle of the field. The Rams immediately seized momentum when Stafford hit Odell Beckham for 29 yards, and Jimmie Ward was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness. The Rams ended up scoring the tying field goal on that series.

In the first half, Ward intercepted a Stafford pass in the end zone to thwart the Rams’ first scoring threat of the game. Stafford tried to squeeze a pass into Cooper Kupp at the goal line, but K’Waun Williams made the deflection, and Ward gathered it in.

MVP candidates take spotlight

On a field full of stars, Deebo Samuel and Cooper Kupp showed why they are a cut above the rest.

After a scoreless first quarter, Kupp showed his incredibly shifty route-running skills to work open into the back right corner of the end zone, where Matthew Stafford found him for a 16-yard touchdown pass.

The 49ers came back to tie the score when Samuel made something out of nothing. 

Samuel took a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage and weaved his way around the first line of defenders, broke into the clear and accelerated for a 44-yard touchdown.

Kupp helped rally the Rams to within three points, 17-14, with an 11-yard touchdown reception early the fourth quarter.

Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris lamented during the week that he could not believe the names of Kupp and Samuel did not come up more often in discussion of MVP candidates this season.

Samuel and Kupp were the focuses of the opposing defense, and they still made their impacts felt.

Kupp caught 11 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Samuel started the game at running back. He carried seven times for 26 yards and added four receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Both players are ultra-important to their team’s successes, and both figure to be headlining the NFC West for a while.

What comes next for the 49ers?

The 49ers have an outstanding nucleus returning, so the club should have the ability to compete for championships in 2022 and future seasons.

The 49ers lived up to most of their preseason promise after losing four consecutive games early in the season and owning a 3-5 record.

However, there is plenty of intrigue about where Garoppolo will be playing next season. Did his performance this season make it more of less likely that he could return to the 49ers? That is the question.

The 49ers invested a lot of draft capital in order to move up to No. 3 overall to select Trey Lance. The 49ers will certainly be approached by teams in need of a new quarterback. There are approximately 10 teams around the league that would consider the addition of Garoppolo as an upgrade.

The 49ers are interested in regaining some of the draft capital spent on moving up for Lance. Also, the 49ers would create a significant amount of salary-cap space with a trade of Garoppolo. Avoiding his $24.2 million salary for 2022 would help the team come to a long-term contract extension with receiver Deebo Samuel.

Garoppolo is an immensely popular figure on the 49ers. The bulk of the team will certainly be back, but Garoppolo’s status could greatly impact the overall aura surrounding the team when they next get together for offseason workouts.

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