LOS ANGELES – The 49ers have a lot of ground to gain if they hope to give any kind of challenge to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West next season.
The Rams on Sunday completed their domination of the 49ers this season with a 48-32 victory to wrap up the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.
The 49ers lost to the Rams, 39-10, on Oct. 21 at Levi’s Stadium. Los Angeles forced four turnovers in that game. The Rams got off to a big lead on Sunday, as the 49ers committed turnovers on four of their first five possessions.
The one bright spot in the loss was George Kittle making NFL history by setting the single-season record for receiving yardage by a tight end. Kittle finished the season with 88 catches for 1,377 yards and five touchdowns.
[BAY]All Things Red and Gold: San Francisco 49ers 2018-19 Season Highlights
Here are three takeaways from Sunday’s game:
Niners set records for futility: The biggest takeaway from the 49ers’ season was, well, their lack of takeaways.
In fact, their futility in that area was historic.
The 49ers set the NFL record for fewest takeaways in a season with just seven forced turnovers. The record prior to this season was 11, shared by Baltimore (1982), Houston (2013), Dallas (2015) and Chicago (2016).
The 49ers also set the record for fewest interceptions in a season with two. The previous record-low was three, set by the Houston Oilers in the nine-game strike-shortened season of 1982.
Antone Exum and Jaquiski Tartt had the 49ers’ only interceptions. It was the first time in Richard Sherman’s eight-year career he did not record an interception.
No team in the NFL was more generous than the 49ers this season. They entered the season finale with a minus-21 turnover margin. And they added impressively to their league-worst total in the opening minutes of Sunday’s game.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk made the poor decision to reach the ball out on a third-and-1 play on the 49ers’ first series of the game. Mark Barron stripped the ball, and Aqib Talib it up and returned it 47 yards.
Quarterback Nick Mullens threw three first-half interceptions, including a pick-six to Rams linebacker Cory Littleton.
Mullens’ first interception came when he was hit as he was throwing. The other came when safety John Johnson deflected a pass in the end zone that was intended for George Kittle. Rams safety Blake Countess made the interception.
Solidifying draft position: The 49ers enter the offseason with their biggest needs being two edge rushers to get after the quarterback on nickel situations.
The 49ers are well-positioned to add some upgrades, beginning in free agency in March and, then, during the draft.
The organization is expected to have in the neighborhood of $70 million salary cap space. They wrapped up the No. 2 overall draft pick with their loss to the Rams on Sunday.
Former Ohio State star Nick Bosa and Josh Allen of Kentucky could be among the options with the No. 2 overall pick. The Cardinals own the top overall selection.
The 49ers will pick ahead of the New York Jets in the first round because of the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker. The 49ers played a weaker schedule to give the tiebreaker edge over the Jets.
Building depth at running back: The 49ers had to use every bit of their depth at running back this season, and they appear to be in good position for next season – if they remain healthier than they did this season.
Their leading rusher on Sunday was veteran Alfred Morris, who is not likely to return next season. Morris carried 16 times for 111 yards on Sunday against the Rams.
Morris signed with the 49ers after the club experienced a rash of injuries during training camp. But he ended up being No. 5 in the pecking order after starting the first game of the season.
Morris was back in the lead-back role on Sunday in the season finale. Matt Breida went on injured reserve Saturday with an ankle injury. Rookie Jeff Wilson Jr. made his second start of the season, but he lasted three carries on Sunday before exiting with a shoulder injury.
Jerick McKinnon, Breida, Wilson and Raheem Mostert ended the season injured, but each is expected back next season. Mostert was the team’s best special-teams player before getting his opportunity on offense and proving himself. Mostert’s season ended in Week 9 with a fractured forearm.