The 49ers will be without two of their most exciting players when they play their season finale Sunday vs. the Rams in Los Angeles.
Running back Matt Breida aggravated an ankle injury in the loss to the Bears this past weekend, and rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis has a sprained knee ligament. Each is expected to come back strong for 2019 without surgery.
Breida has fought through an ankle injury for much of this season, yet showed he belongs in the NFL. Stepping in for Jerick McKinnon – acquired during the offseason to be the team’s No. 1 back – Breida exceeded expectations, rushing for 814 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry – the third best season average ever for a 49er – and had 27 catches for 261 yards. He scored five TDs and had 1,075 yards from scrimmage. If McKinnon comes back healthy, Breida will give his team a nice 1-2 combination in the backfield.
Breida ranks No. 4 in the NFL this season in yards per carry.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan said Breida “played like a No. 1 back” and loved his explosive running style, despite the ankle problems.
“He has not been 100 percent effective for a while,” said Shanahan. “That has affected his production. It has made it harder for him to look the same way he did at the beginning of the year. But, it shows you the type of guy he is that he can still take it to a whole other level the healthier he gets for next year.”
Pettis, a second-round pick from Washington, missed five games early in the season because of an injury but came on strong over the second half of the season. He finishes with 27 catches in 12 games, for 467 yards – a 17.3-yard average – and five TDs. His best game was a 129-yard, two-TD performance vs. Seattle in Week 13.
Shanahan said Pettis had to adjust his game to the quicker pace of the NFL, and learn to fight off physical defensive backs before he found success. If he can continue to improve, he’ll become an important part of the offense, he said.
“We need him to get better every day,” said Shanahan. “As long as he works, I think he will.”
The 4-11 49ers will take on the 12-3, NFC West Division-champion Rams Sunday at 1:25 p.m.