As 12 teams begin preparations for playoff games, the San Francisco 49ers are among the other 20 whose seasons came to an early end. However, the 49ers players, coaches, and fans are encouraged by how the season ended.

Before this past season, no NFL team that had started 0-9 finished with more than three wins. The 49ers finished with six and were the only undefeated team in December.

The 49ers season can be divided into two unequal parts. There was the pre-Garoppolo portion when San Francisco was 1-10, and there was the post-Garoppolo portion when it was 5-0. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was acquired by the 49ers via a trade with the New England Patriots on October 30. His first start came during a Week 13 contest against the Chicago Bears, and since then, the 49ers looked much improved.

Still, the impressive run was too late, and San Francisco must wait until next season to determine its full potential. A lot of the credit for the 49ers' strong finish also belongs to head coach Kyle Shanahan, who kept the team together through a nine-game losing streak to begin the season.

"He was able to just stay the course, and I think his first head coaching year is very, very impressive because of what he had to go through," 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said on Monday. "It was no success early for him, and he was able to build a locker room that was 2-14 the previous year and going through an 0-9 start.

"He still had us believing. I think you saw that in the second half of the season when the locker room comes together and really believes in their head coach, and what we're doing here, and what we can do.

"That's why this year was so special. I mean, 6-10 at the end of the season but I don't think there's a team in the NFL that would want to see us right now in the playoffs and we've just got to carry that momentum into the offseason and continue to work like we did this year in the second half. We're excited about that."

Staley, who just completed his 11th NFL season, finished the year as the second-highest graded tackle, according to Pro Football Focus. He did not allow a quarterback pressure during the 49ers' season finale against the Los Angeles Rams and allowed just three over the team's last five games.


* Video of Staley courtesy of Cam Inman of Bay Area News Group