The 49ers almost made a terrible mistake.
They were on the verge of winning a meaningless game and ruining their draft position. They were up 10 freaking points in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks. They needed a miracle to pull off the loss.
Against all odds, the 49ers came together as a team and found a way to lose. It was one of the most inspirational, hard-fought losses in franchise history.
Here are the 49ers’ grades for their heroic effort.
C.J. BEATHARD: A.
He certainly made this game much closer than it needed to be. He gave a mature, understated, safety-first performance which perfectly complemented the stellar defense the 49ers played for three quarters. The nerve of this guy. But in the fourth quarter, Beathard wisely didn’t throw to a wide-open George Kittle in the end zone and, on the following play, spun around in circles and got himself sacked. Clutch sequence. Finally, when the 49ers fell behind by three points late in the fourth quarter, Beathard fumbled, sealed the loss and then padded his stats in garbage time. He finished with 273 yards, one touchdown and a 98.1 passer rating. That’s called tanking in style.
RUNNING BACKS: D.
Kyle Juszczyk made a tremendous team play to pick up no yards on third and one, but Jeff Wilson Jr. was selfish. The guy ran hard all day, scored not one but two touchdowns and gave the 49ers every opportunity to win. How dare he?
WIDE RECEIVERS: F.
Kendrick Bourne and Richie James. Jr. showed no quit and fought until the final whistle. Inexcusable. Kyle Shanahan should have benched them.
TIGHT ENDS: A.
George Kittle couldn’t help catching six passes for 78 yards -- he’s that good. He even made a sensational one-handed catch AND got open in the end zone by mistake once. But he also dropped a crucial pass on third down during the fourth quarter. This loss wouldn’t have been possible without that play. That’s why Kittle is one of the best in the NFL.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: A-PLUS.
When the 49ers fell behind by three points in the fourth quarter, Justin Skule and Mike McGlinchey whiffed on the same play, Skule’s man stripped the ball from Beathard and McGlinchey’s man recovered it. Just tremendous synchronization and execution by Skule and McGlinchey to miss their blocks at the exact same time when the 49ers needed a turnover.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: A-PLUS.
The 49ers had given up just six points through three quarters -- they were playing too well. Fortunately for them, their $85-million captain Arik Armstead rose to the occasion. On first and 10 from the 49ers 27-yard line, Armstead bit on a play-action fake and never seemed to notice or care that Russell Wilson kept the ball and completed a 20-yard pass to his tight end. The Seahawks scored a touchdown three plays later. Bless you, Arik.
Fred Warner maintained his reputation as the best middle linebacker in football by recording 11 tackles and one sack, and helped lose the game by giving up a touchdown catch to Tyler Lockett. There really is nothing Warner can’t do.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-PLUS.
It was fourth and goal from the 4 late in the fourth quarter and the 49ers were on the verge of a disastrous victory. One more good defensive play and they would have won. That’s when Ahkello Witherspoon took over and gave up Lockett’s second touchdown catch of the afternoon. Game ball goes to Witherspoon, who adds yet another one to add to his sizable collection.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D.
River Cracraft started out strong by making a fair catch when no one was within 15 yards of him. But in the second half, he actually returned a punt and gained a whopping 21 yards. How hard is it to not return punts? Come on, River.
The 49ers put on a clinic of how to lose. They didn’t just give away the game in the first quarter -- anyone rube could do that. No, the 49ers out-coached the Seahawks for three quarters, then gave away the game late and lost by just three points. Now, they can say they competed with a playoff team, and can use this loss as a morale booster going into the offseason. Genius.
QUALITY CONTROL: A-PLUS.
I made the 49ers believe they could lose this game, I showed them how to lose it and they executed. Sometimes my job is easy.