The San Francisco 49ers dropped their finale to the Seattle Seahawks 26-23 to finish at 6-10, looking forward to returning home after five weeks in Arizona and a lengthy season full of fallen teammates.
The final game of the season against their perennial rival Seahawks featured two industrial defensive outfits, as both teams struggled to do anything with the ball for most of the contest.
The Niners had extra incentive to turn in an impressive effort on defense, as highly touted 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will most likely be lured to take over as the head coach of another NFL team this offseason, taking an interview for the vacant Atlanta Falcons position Monday.
OK Dontae 👀 2 sacks in the first half for the #49ers Defense! #SEAvsSF 2nd half coming up on FOX pic.twitter.com/gZguY5KPyj— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) January 3, 2021
49ers QB CJ Beathard started the game under center for the 49ers, throwing for 273 yards on 25/37 attempts and one touchdown for a 67.7 QBR, but neither offense could get anything going with both defenses dialed in.
The 49ers held Seahawks QB Russel Wilson to 181 yards and two touchdowns, while WR DK Metcalf hauled in just three of his nine targets for 21 yards.
“DK wasn’t talking too much today,” FS Jimmie Ward told the media after the game.
Ahkello Witherspoon has been giving DK Metcalf all the smoke 😤— OurSF49ers (@OurSf49ers) January 3, 2021
| #49ers #FTTB pic.twitter.com/E4fiObt2C2
At halftime, the 49ers found themselves down by just three points, with the score at 6-3.
After two Niner field goals and a touchdown for each team on either side of the 4th quarter, the 49ers defense looked poised to stop the Seahawks and give the ball back to Beathard with a chance to freeze the game and upset the NFC-West leading Seahawks.
With just over two two minutes left, up 16-12 and Seattle facing a fourth and goal on the Niners’ four yard line, the 49ers defense that had bent all day finally broke, as Wilson connected with WR Tyler Lockett for a TD to put Seattle up by three points.
Two plays later, with a chance to come back and win the game, a costly Beathard fumble was recovered by Seattle’s DE Rasheem Green and quickly converted into another Sehawks touchdown, putting the game out of reach for San Francisco.
The 49ers had 35 players miss nearly 330 games this year due to injuries and positive Covid tests, and while the team never looked to make excuses for their lot this season, there was a huge sense of relief shared among players and coaches upon the game’s conclusion Sunday.
“I'm very happy the season’s over.” Shanahan told reporters in his postgame press conference. “Once we were eliminated from the playoffs, we were ready to move on a little bit and get to next year. But we had to finish it and I was really proud of the guys today.”
“There's no doubt there's relief.” Shanahan added. “That's been adding up.”
The focus postgame was centered almost entirely around next year, from coaching vacancies to quarterback options, contract extensions, and just getting home to San Francisco after being in a hotel in Arizona for five straight weeks.
“Super excited to get out of here and get back to our families,” DE Arik Armstead told reporters.
“First time I've ever packed two days in advance for anything,” Shanahan echoed. “I'm excited this year is over. And now it's time to figure out how to improve us.”
With questions swirling about who would be taking snaps in for the 49ers next season, WR Kendrick Bourne told media, “I believe in Jimmy, I believe in CJ, and Nick. I’ve played with all those guys, I’ve caught a touchdown from each one of em, so I don’t really mind who’s back there.”
The 49ers are optimistic that they can keep the core of this team together, and believe the challenges faced this year will help them return to the pinnacle of the sport next year, with the team getting key players back from injury.
“The hand that we were dealt, the players that we lost throughout this year, is never the way you wanna go about doing it, and it’s never a season that you wanna experience having, because it hurts you to see your friends not being able to be the players they wanna be because they’ve had some unfortunate injuries,” OT Mike McGlinchey said in his postgame Zoom conference. “And the things we can build on from that and the other players that got opportunities to show out and to show up for our team this year ... no matter what the circumstances are, no matter how the success of our team’s been, there’s people that you gotta fight for.”
49ers players and coaches did not do much to dissuade potential suitors of their defensive coordinator, as they lauded praises upon Saleh’s character and deep knowledge of the sport.
“We always knew that he’s a top candidate and a great coach and that’d be a big opportunity for him and his family,” Armstead said. “I’m super excited for him, he definitely deserves that and I hope that opportunity comes to fruition. And if that’s something he wants to do, I hope it happens for him, cause he’s a great coach and a great man.”
“He’s meant so much to me from the moment coming out in the draft," Pro-Bowl-bound LB Fred Warner told reporters. “The belief he had in me and has continued to have in me, I can’t thank him enough for just riding with me. That guy’s an amazing coach.”
The most glowing praise, however, came from Shanahan.
“I don't know what's wrong with people if they don't hire him,” Shanahan repeated. “I mean, he's as good as you can get and knows more about football, all three phases. And he's going to hire the best staff. He knows about players. He knows who knows what they're talking about. Who doesn't know what they're talking about. And he also knows how to deal with people. So, I hope everyone's not very smart and doesn't hire them so I can keep him. But, I'm expecting not to have him.”
With or without Saleh next season, the 49ers are confident that they can return and compete for the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl title.
“We've got a lot of other good guys on our staff and I know there'll be a number of options and we've got a number of good players,” Shanahan said. “Obviously we'll wait to see what happens with Saleh. But, I know that the Niners will be alright.”
Top image: Chris Coduto/Getty Images