49ers' Week 18 performance good enough to set up NFL playoff run

49ers' Week 18 performance good enough to set up NFL playoff run originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SANTA CLARA — The 49ers’ Week 18 game did not go exactly how coach Kyle Shanahan and his team planned.

But it could have been a lot worse.

The 49ers saw an end to their NFC West dominance with a 21-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

Now, the focus quickly shifts to what’s next.

And, for the 49ers, that means not preparing for any particular opponent for the next week but working toward becoming a better all-around team.

“You do a little bit of self-scout,” 49ers Pro Bowl linebacker Fred Warner told NBC Sports Bay Area on "49ers Talk" after the game. “You look at things that might have hurt us throughout the end of this season on either side of the ball and you focus on those things, shore up any of those little things and make sure you’re at your best when your best is needed.”

The top priority for the 49ers on Sunday was just to make sure they were able to be as close to full strength as possible entering the postseason.

And while the 49ers appeared to avoid any significant injuries, there is concern about starting defensive end Clelin Ferrell, who left after the first series of the game with a knee injury. There is optimism Ferrell will be available for when the 49ers open the playoffs in two weeks after it appears he avoided a significant injury.

Another concern is how the 49ers lost to the Rams.

Their kicking game failed to pick up what should have been four easy points.

Rookie kicker Jake Moody has largely been reliable, though he had a stretch earlier in the season when things appeared a bit shaky. He missed two kicks against the Cleveland Browns, including one in the closing seconds that could have pulled out a 49ers victory.

On Sunday, his 38-yard field-goal attempt glanced off the right upright in the second quarter. Then, he badly missed an extra-point attempt.

Moody had made 60 consecutive extra points. If he had made one more, he would have become the first 49ers player to be perfect on extra points since the NFL moved the line of scrimmage on the kick to the 15-yard line.

Instead, his missed field goal provided the Rams with the opening to win the game on a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter.

The last thing the 49ers wanted to see entering the playoffs was their rookie kicker with any reason to feel less-than-confident when every point could have huge consequences.

The 49ers did not take any chances with quarterback Brock Purdy, running back Christian McCaffrey, tight end George Kittle or linebacker Dre Greenlaw on Sunday. They did not suit up for the game.

And many of the 49ers' other Pro Bowl players did not have big roles in Sunday’s game, as the focus was on being in the best position to make a postseason run, beginning either Jan. 20 or Jan. 21 in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The key for the 49ers might be getting defensive tackle Arik Armstead back and playing at a high level.

Armstead missed his fifth consecutive game on Sunday due to foot and knee issues. A year ago, Armstead was sidelined for eight games during the regular season. When he returned for the postseason, he was very productive.

He is hoping to follow that same route this season. And it appears the defense could use a lift at this point.

There is a certain randomness associated with playoff football.

The 49ers have tried to eliminate as many of those negative variables as possible. They accomplished the top regular-season goal of entering with the No. 1 seed. And they should be as healthy as any team in the league when they next take the field.

Until then, there's plenty of work to be done to prepare for what lies ahead.

“There is no seven-game series in the playoffs,” Warner said. “You got to play the very best you can for three hours straight. And that’s going to be our main focus, regardless of the opponent.”

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