After three intense games against the Packers, Ravens, and Saints, Sunday's loss to the Falcons was a major letdown as the 49ers faltered 22-29 at home. Despite the loss, the 49ers clinched a playoff berth with the Rams' loss to the Cowboys. It's probably not the best way to make the playoffs but...


Here are your Week 15 Studs and Duds of the game. Like a couple of weeks ago when they lost to the Ravens, the 49ers now fall back to the No. 5 seed in the NFC; the Seahawks are atop the NFC West division with an 11-3 record with the tie-breaker over the 49ers. Despite Sunday's loss, the 49ers still control their destiny—with little room for error moving forward. The 49ers can clinch the top seed in the conference if they win outright for the final two games of the season.

Studs


Special Teams


A shout out goes to the 49ers' special teams unit for making a timely play in the fourth quarter. The 49ers were up just 13-10 and fielding a punt return by Falcons' Kenjon Barner. 49ers tight end Ross Dwelley pried the ball loose while full back Kyle Juszczyk recovered the fumble to get it at Falcons' 1-yard line.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan rewarded Juszczyk by calling his number two times on offense for the touchdown on the drive, giving the 49ers a 19-10 lead.

The special teams unit has been shaky in recent weeks but in a game where the defense couldn't make a play, the group could have potentially delivered its most crucial play of the game. This was only the second time all season the 49ers' defense did not have one takeaway; the last time was Week 9 against the Cardinals.

George Kittle


On a day in which no one else could step up in the passing game, the 49ers star tight end was everything for the offense. Both as a blocker in the run game and receiver in the passing game, Kittle received top grades from Pro Football Focus.



In similar to fashion to the Falcons' Julio Jones, Kittle was essentially the 49ers' entire offense on Sunday. Kittle alone received 17 targets while the rest of the 49ers' receivers got 16 targets as a team. It was no secret who Jimmy Garoppolo was looking for in key situations; they were able to convert on a fourth-down thanks to Kittle catching it out the backfield.

The one caveat from Kittle's performance came on a third down opportunity in the fourth quarter. Kittle hauled in a short pass in what should've gone for a first down—until Kittle surprisingly fumbled the ball out of bounds. The 49ers settled for a field goal and gave the ball back to the Falcons with under two minutes…

Arik Armstead


While the sack numbers didn't show up, the film certainly speaks to the impact 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead had on Sunday. Armstead was the 49ers' best pass rusher as he finished the day with a season-best seven pressures; the defensive line as a whole also limited the Falcons to just 89 rushing yards.



David Lombardi of The Athletic noted the need for help from the rest of the defensive line. Through the last three games, the 49ers have accumulated three sacks with two of those coming from this game.

Duds


Wide Receivers


Between 49ers wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel, and Kendrick Bourne, the trio combined for just four catches for 49 yards. The others? Richie James Jr. was targeted zero times while Dante Pettis saw zero snaps, period.

I'm not sure what the All-22 film will show but I'd be curious as to why Garoppolo couldn't get his receivers more involved. Were they covered that well by the Falcons' secondary? Did Garoppolo not have enough time to find his receivers?


Adjustments need to be made moving forward as the 49ers continue to deal with injuries on both sides of the football. The 49ers were also adjusting to Ben Garland being inserted into the starting lineup at center.

Play Calling


There was a stark comparison between the aggressive play-calling last week against the Saints to the lackluster performance against Atlanta at home. While the Falcons were limited to just 290 of total offense, it's not like the 49ers were that much better. I can't recall any plays that truly challenged the Falcons vertically. Most of the plays were dump-offs to running backs or Kittle in the passing game.

The 49ers scored their first touchdown of the game in the second quarter in what was their longest drive of the season—or even years. That drive alone lasted for 21 plays for 88 yards and had taken nearly 10 minutes of playing time. Usually, winning the time of possession is good for winning ball games but right after their strenuous drive, the Falcons responded with their own 10-play touchdown drive to even up the score. Was Shanahan playing keep away versus trying to score more points? One could argue the play calling got a bit vanilla in this one.

Pass Coverage


With injuries in the secondary, the 49ers were without key contributors in Jaquiski Tartt, Richard Sherman, and K'Waun Williams. Nonetheless, I'm not sure what happened in their game planning when you consider the Falcons' offense revolved completely around Julio Jones. Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley is on injured reserve while tight end Austin Hooper was limited to three catches for 20 receiving yards.

Jones matched Kittle with 13 catches for 134 yards along with two touchdowns, including the game-winner in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter.


The Falcons moved Jones all over the field and while the 49ers' secondary was aware of it, it seemed like there was nothing it could do. 49ers linebacker Fred Warner had a rather easy looking interception in the fourth quarter but bumped into safety D.J. Reed on the play. It's frustrating when you consider the numerous big plays for touchdowns the defense has allowed over the last three games.
  • Justin Wong
  • Written by:
    Justin Wong has been writing for the 49ers Webzone since 2017 while also running an NFC West blog and podcast called Just The West. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to @JustTheWest on Twitter.