The great, good, and bad performances from the SF 49ers 26-23 Week 17 loss

Marc Delucchi
·6 min read

In their final game of the season, the San Francisco 49ers once again showed exactly why they deserved to be preseason favorites, but ultimately, why when the playoffs start next week, they will be back home watching. A team decimated by injuries has missed many of their most important players on each side of the ball for multiple games.

On Sunday, against the 11-4 Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers were without at least five starters on each side of the ball. Still, their defense played inspired and shutdown Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson for three quarters. Head coach Kyle Shanahan had a solid play-calling day, with open receivers throughout, but third-string quarterback C.J. Beathard failed to make the right reads on multiple occasions.

By the fourth quarter, Wilson would not be contained for much longer. Aided by a Beathard fumble, the Seahawks scored three touchdowns in the final quarter and ultimately finished on the better side of the 26-23 score. Football is not the sport for moral victories, but the 49ers played like they were as good as the NFC West champ even without some of their best players.

Great: Robert Saleh

(AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

For three quarters, Saleh had a nearly impeccable performance, but Wilson and the Seahawks offense were able to breakthrough in the fourth. That's more about Wilson's greatness than anything Saleh did, but it still brings him a slight gradation down. Still, do not be mistaken, Saleh schemed a beautiful game and nearly shut down one of the five best quarterbacks in the NFL for 60 minutes. While the 49ers defense was obviously better last year, Saleh's performance this season was by far the most impressive work he's done with the team. No position group on the defense was unscathed by injuries and they held strong in nearly every contest. Last offseason, Saleh and Kevin Stefanski were the final two candidates for the Cleveland Browns head coaching job. Stefanski looks like a good coach in Cleveland, but there was a fair argument that Saleh was a better man for the job. Even in a lost season, Saleh has found a way to make his resume even stronger and he showed fans why on Sunday in what will likely be his final game as Kyle Shanahan's defensive coordinator.

Bad: Justin Skule

(Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

With starting left tackle Trent Williams out, 2019 sixth-round pick Justin Skule had to slide into the starting lineup. Skule was drafted to be a backup and has been thrust into some difficult situations for a young offensive lineman. Nevertheless, he played Sunday like one would expect. The Seahawks knew the 49ers offensive line would have some issues without their best blocker and sent a number of stunts and blitzers Skule's way. The second-year tackle struggled all day, but his worst play came on a strip sack late in the fourth quarter that helped the Seahawks ice the victory.

Great: Tristan Vizcaino

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Auditioning for a job down the road, Vizcaino was fantastic. He made both extra-point attempts and went three-for-three on field goals, including a 47-yard field goal with plenty of room to spare. It's understandable why Shanahan and company were hesitant to let Robbie Gould, a dependable veteran, go. However, with an impending cap crunch, Vizcaino showed why they might regret not taking a chance on someone like him.

Good: Ahkello Witherspoon

(Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)

After a victory-clinching interception last week, Witherspoon once again started opposite Jason Verrett and looked like the player the 49ers have been expecting him to become since he was drafted. While he's had an up-and-down four-year career with the Niners, he's shown an ability to bounce back in a way that players like wide receiver Dante Pettis were unable to. The pass rush was solid Sunday and Saleh dialed up some timely blitzes to force sacks or bad passes from Wilson, but much of the pressure was a credit to the defensive backfield's work opposite wide receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Aside from a late-game drag route at the goal line that resulted in a touchdown, Witherspoon played well enough to earn a look from the club in free agency.

Great: George Kittle

(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

This really goes without saying. Without Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel, Kittle was the only premium pass-catcher available to CJ Beathard, and the Seahawks defense knew it. Yet, even with a disproportionate amount of attention, Kittle still hauled in seven of his nine targets for 68 receiving yards, including an incredible one-handed catch on a 41-yard pass on a ball thrown well behind him that easily could have been a Seattle interception. Even when he wasn't running routes, he was helping a battered offensive line in pass protection and was back mauling defenders in the run game as well. Every part of the offense is better when Kittle is on the field because he's one of the best players at every facet of the game. Some will argue that Travis Kelce and even Darren Waller are better tight ends than Kittle, but neither is a factor in the run game like the Iowa alum.

Bad: C.J. Beathard

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

I was advocating for quarterback C.J. Beathard to get an opportunity to play over Nick Mullens for much of the season. It was not out of some fervent belief in Beathard as a quarterback, but in my skepticism that Mullens was a viable option. With that said, Sunday's matchup against the Seahawks was the perfect example of why Mullens had been ahead of Beathard on the depth chart to begin with. Beathard might have the strongest arm and be the fastest quarterback on the 49ers roster. He showed off his running ability on a couple of plays and hit wide receiver Richie James on a beautiful 45-yard throw in the first half. At the same time, his slow processing time and consistent inability to find open receivers was far costlier than what he added. Mullens wouldn't have made the throw to James, and maybe not the 41-yard bomb to Kittle either. However, he would have hit a wide open Kittle on a play at the goal-line and probably found the open man on a number of other occasions. Beathard's willingness to hold the ball also had it's costs in sacks and a late-game fumble deep in 49ers territory.