The 49ers began the season picked by many as dark-horse contenders in the NFC West.
They ended it Sunday with a shootout loss, 48-32, to the division-champion Rams in Los Angeles, that left them with a 4-12 record and a knowledge there is much work to be done this offseason by general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan to get to the Rams’ level.
But one position the 49ers don’t have to worry about, at least, is tight end, where second-year man George Kittle on Sunday broke the NFL record for receiving yards at his position, while also setting a franchise record for receptions in a season by a tight end.
Kittle had a huge game, catching nine balls for 149 yards and a touchdown – a 43-yard catch-and-run play that set the new mark with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
That play gave him 1,377 receiving yards for the season, breaking the record set by New England’s Rob Gronkowski in 2011 and also the 1,336 yards produced by the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce this season. Kelce, in fact, had five catches for 62 yards in a victory over the Raiders in a game that ended more than a half hour before Kittle’s fourth-quarter plays put him over the top.
Kittle finishes the season with 88 catches, six more than Eric Johnson’s team mark set in 2004.
Kittle’s record-setting 43-yard TD play was a typical one for him, as he took a short toss from Nick Mullens on a crossing route, shook a would-be tackler and then sprinted through the secondary untouched for the score.
Mullens finished 23-of-33 pasing for 282 yards, three TDs and three interceptions. The 49ers turned the ball over four times Sunday while forcing no turnovers – a season-long problem on both sides of the ball in 2018.
Alfred Morris ran for 111 yards for San Francisco. On defense, rookie linebacker Fred Warner – a bright spot this season – was in on 14 stops.
With the loss to the Rams Sunday, the 49ers earned the No. 2 pick in next year’s draft, behind the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers, Jets and Raiders all finished 4-12, but the Niners had the easiest strength of schedule, earning the second choice.