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Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

3 quick takeaways for the postseason as 49ers fall to Rams 21-20

Jan 7, 2024 at 6:10 PM--

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In a game that felt more like a preseason tune-up than an actual in-season NFL game, the Los Angeles Rams defeated the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 21-20.

With both teams locked into playoff position - and crucially, the 49ers clinching the #1 bye seed - the Rams and 49ers took the field for a final tune-up before the 2023-24 postseason. 49ers backup QB Sam Darnold faced off against Rams backup QB Carson Wentz in a matchup of former top-3 overall picks fighting to secure futures in the NFL for 2024 and beyond. San Francisco started the game strong, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive and taking a 20-7 lead into halftime, but a few critical mistakes kept the 49ers off the board in the second half as the Rams mounted their comeback. While the 49ers ultimately fell and failed to match the Ravens' 13 wins in the AFC, San Francisco exited the game largely healthy; only DL Clelin Ferrell (knee) and S Tayler Hawkins (wrist) lost any time during the game.

Here are three quick takeaways from the 49ers' 21-20 loss to the Rams.

Moody's misses cause for concern?

The most significant development in Sunday's loss was a pair of errors by kicker Jake Moody, who the 49ers drafted early in the third round in this year's draft. Moody, known for having a strong leg and enduring turbulent conditions at the University of Michigan, has nevertheless been relatively limited in action this year. His biggest moment came at the end of a 19-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 6, when he failed to convert a would-be, game-winning 41-yard try in the elements. Other than that moment, Moody hasn't been featured in many crunch time situations, which makes his performance against the Rams somewhat concerning.

Moody missed a total of two kicks on Sunday, first pushing a 38-yard field goal try just right of the post, then doing the same with an extra point on San Francisco's subsequent possession. The field goal miss marked the first time Moody has missed an attempt within 40 yards, as Moody had been 15-15 on the season. Sunday's action brings Moody's season field goal percentage to a below-average 84.0% (21-25), on 5-8 kicking from beyond 40 yards. Moody's extra-point miss was also his first miss of the season, as the rookie kicker recorded a 60-61 total (98.4%), just missing a perfect season in that regard.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the pair of misses were Moody's final attempts of the regular season. San Francisco punted on three of their last four possessions, and on the final drive, QB Sam Darnold fumbled the ball away while in Rams territory, denying Moody an attempt to recover for a game-winning try. That remains perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the loss, as few teams can afford the luxury of an inconsistent kicker during a postseason run. Until Moody goes out and proves his mettle in the playoffs, we'll never know if his shaky regular season finale was a prescient case of the nerves, a notable weakness in his game, or simply an adjustment he was attempting during a low-stakes contest.

Darnold, Wentz sharp in finale

While the overall score of the game remained somewhat low, 49ers' backup Sam Darnold and Rams counterpart Carson Wentz each recorded surprisingly effective games. As formerly high-profile starters, each had an opportunity to present himself on a national stage, and both made the most of it.

Darnold took the opportunity to show off his mastery of Kyle Shanahan's system, going 5-5 for 49 yards on San Francisco's first drive. He was able to make his fair share of tight window throws, and evaded pressure in a manner not altogether unlike what the 49ers see regularly in Purdy. He finished the day with line of 16-26 (61.5 completion %) with 189 yards, 2 TDs (one rushing), and no interceptions. While his stat line didn't look exceptionally gaudy, it does a decent job of representing his day. For most of the game, Darnold exceeded his ratings both in poise and execution, with a trio of deep passes bouncing off the hands his wide receivers in the second half, despite being notably well-placed. Unfortunately, Darnold's day came to an ignominious end when Rams lineman Desjuan Johnson punched the ball out of his hands on a two-minute drive scramble, where LA recovered the ball and ended San Francisco's comeback bid.

Wentz, meanwhile, flourished less consistently in the passing game early on, but made a strong case for himself as a two-way threat with his legs. He finished as the Rams' leading rusher, carrying the ball 17 times for 56 yards (3.3 YPC). His 17 carries in a game were the most by any Rams QB since at least 1950, with only Lamar Jackson, Tim Tebow, Justin Fields, and Jalen Hurts recording more this century. Despite his overall inefficiency, Wentz made his presence known on the ground, punching in the Rams final touchdown on a 12-yard rush, his longest of the day. The threat of his runs helped him to a 17-24 (70.8 completion %) stat line with two touchdowns against 1 interception. Both quarterbacks ended up with a passer ratings in the high-90's, amplifying their cases for top backup or low-end starter in free agency next year.

Back-ups ball out, somewhat

With plenty of roster movement happening on both sides, underappreciated players from both teams were able to make an impact in their limited NFL action. Safety Tayler Hawkins made the first big splash of the game, diving for a tipped ball for an interception in his NFL debut. With San Francisco's notoriously thin secondary, Hawkins may need to step up for the 49ers later this postseason.

Across the field, rookie lineman Robert Beal Jr. recorded his first sack for the 49ers, a 7-yard loss as Wentz attempted to scramble out to his right. Recently acquired safety Logan Ryan made his presence felt on the field, recording 7 tackles, including 5 solo tackles and a tackle for loss. Next to Darnold, RB Jordan Mason had a nice night, rushing 6 times for 36 yards. Mason, who has frequently been inactive during this season due to his inability to contribute on special teams, made the most of his limited time tonight showing that he can still be a tough, effective runner. And Chris Conley, who has provided depth all year for San Francisco's wide receiver room, had a big night with 3 catches for 69 yards, including a 48-yard strike for his first catch of the year.

Of course, the Rams had a few players show out as well. RB Ronnie Rivers provided most of the rushing assistance behind Wentz, totaling 13 carries for 52 yards. WR Brycen Hopkins led LA with 47 receiving yards on 2 completions (3 targets), while Desjuan Johnson on defense made the Rams' biggest play of the night on the Darnold fumble. Largely, though, it was Wentz's night for LA, which was enough to get them to 10-7 on the year, giving them the 6th seed overall for the Super Wild Card Weekend.

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