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Notes and observations from 49ers final regular season game of 2023 season

The 49ers’ regular season is over. It ended Sunday with a 21-20 defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams.

San Francisco had its No. 1 seed locked up and sat most of its starters for most of the game. LA sat most of its starters as well, giving the game a distinctly preseason feel.

The loss marked the first one for the 49ers in the regular season vs. the Rams since the 2018 season. It also snapped a 12-game win streak vs. NFC West opponents for San Francisco.

Here are our observations from the Week 18 contest at Levi’s Stadium:

First quarter

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

– No George Kittle on the field to start the game. It’s Charlie Woerner starting there. Trent Williams is in. The first throw of the game went to Deebo Samuel.

– Good mobility and throw back on the run to Woerner by Darnold on the second snap of the game.

– Rookie TE Brayden Willis is getting some early run. He held his own as a run blocker on the edge on the first run to his side.

Elijah Mitchell is getting a ton of work early. He looks good for the second week in a row.

– Kittle and LB Dre Greenlaw aren’t dressed for the game.

– A handoff to Samuel? In this economy? He found 11 yards and a first down. It’s hard to imagine the starting WRs play much more.

– Sheesh. 12 plays and 75 yards for the 49ers on their first drive. Mitchell barreled in from a couple yards out to cap the series. Darnold had an impressive series where he went five-for-five for 49 yards and showed off some good pocket awareness and mobility. It’s 7-0 and San Francisco chewed 7:33 off the clock.

Javon Kinlaw whiffed a tackle on the Rams’ first play of the game.

Isaiah Oliver got the start in the slot with Deommodore Lenoir filling in for Ambry Thomas outside.

Chase Young generated a pressure and narrowly missed a sack. He could be a game-changer in the postseason.

– What a dime from Carson Wentz to Puka Nacua for a 19-yard touchdown. That ties the game. Nacua beat really good coverage from Charvarius Ward.

– Samuel is still in the game and got flagged for offensive pass interference. It’s a little surprising he’s still playing.

– Sick stiff arm from Samuel on LB Troy Reader on the next snap. That was nasty.

– Trent Williams is done after one series. Jaylon Moore is in at left tackle.

End of first quarter: 49ers 7, Rams 7

Second quarter

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Mason has great vision and he hits the hole at full speed every time.

– Darnold just took a QB sneak form two yards out. He came up just short. That was interesting.

– Outstanding effort from Mason on a fourth-and-1 run where he initially got stacked up just short, but he shoved his way ahead for a couple yards and a first down.

– Mitchell looks awesome. He just railroaded former 49ers CB Ahkello Witherspoon on the sideline after doing well to slip a tackle.

– Third-and-4 deep in the red zone and Darnold has to throw it away. He made a nice play escaping the collapsing pocket, and a holding penalty was called to give the 49ers a fresh set of downs inside the 5. Darnold hung in the pocket as long as he could — he probably should have gotten out a tick sooner, but it’s a positive that he wasn’t bailing from a clean pocket and kept his eye downfield.

– There’s a touchdown for Darnold. He snuck it in from a yard out. He’s up to 13 yards on five attempts. The 49ers used 16 plays and 9:54 of the game clock on that 75-yard drive. It’s 14-7, 49ers.

– Wow! What a moment for second-year safety Tayler Hawkins who snagged an interception in his NFL debut. Wentz threw a pass with a little too much heat to WR Tutu Atwell. The ball bounced off of Atwell and Hawkins laid out for a diving interception. That was an awesome play for the second-year UDFA.

– There’s Ray-Ray McCloud who’s back after missing five games with an injury. He went 11 yards on a screen behind Willis.

Jake Moody missed a 38-yard field goal. The 49ers cannot confidently count on him in any big spot come playoff time.

– Rams had a third-and-1 and Oliver knifed in for a near tackle for loss, but he whiffed the RB.

– Nice hit by Hawkins on a high throw by Wentz.

– It’s clear the 49ers are trying to ensure McCloud is ready for the postseason. They’re getting him touches in a handful of ways with short throws and handoffs.

– Excellent throw from Darnold to WR Chris Conley on a deep throw down the left side. Conley wound up taking it 48 yards on his first catch of the season.

– Conley dropped a near TD after a long Darnold scramble to buy time. That mobility has been really intriguing for the QB in this one.

– Sweet throw to Ronnie Bell in a tight window by Darnold for a touchdown. That’s Bell’s third TD of the season and it puts the 49ers up 20-7.

– Moody missed the extra point. His first PAT miss of the year after going 60-for-60. What a disaster.

– It’s clear the Rams are trying to get Nacua the stats he needs to set the rookie receptions and receiving yards record. The 49ers are doubling him.

Haltime: 49ers 20, Rams 7

Third quarter

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

– Another pressure from Young. He read a read option look from Wentz and made an athletic play to hold Wentz to a gain of 1.

– Nacua got his records early in the third quarter. Congrats to him.

– All the 49ers defensive starters are out.

– Good for rookie DE Robert Beal. He came up with his first career sack on a bootleg from Wentz. That was a good, athletic play from the rookie out of Georgia.

– Ouch. Not great for Beal’s fellow rookie Darrell Luter Jr. who got beat for a long completion on a third-and-17.

– CB Samuel Womack had good coverage on a fade route to WR Tyler Johnson. He locked up the WR and just carried him to the sideline.

– Heck of a play by LB Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. He tracked down a Rams RB on a toss play in the red zone. Flannigan-Fowles got horizontal and then didn’t hesitate when he broke on the RB.

– Oof. More good coverage from Womack still results in a Rams TD. Wentz threw a dime to Johnson in the back of the end zone in the only spot Womack didn’t have covered. It’s 20-13 after a missed PAT by the Rams.

– Ouch. Darnold got whacked on a first-and-10 sack. He held the ball way too long.

– Veteran DB Logan Ryan had a really good run stop late in the third quarter. It looked like Chase Young helped by collapsing the edge.

End of third quarter: 49ers 20, Rams 13

Fourth quarter

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

– Unrelated to this game, but the Eagles are getting waxed by the Giants 24-3. Not really sure anyone reading this cares, but there’s not a ton happening in the 49ers game as both teams just try and get to the playoffs.

– Wentz is running a ton. He has 11 carries for 35 yards.

– Oliver got smoked by a stiff arm, but he still came up with the tackle.

– Another pressure by Chase Young. He’s having a good game.

Oren Burks gets credited with a sack thanks to a challenge by head coach Kyle Shanahan. Initially it was ruled Wentz got rid of the ball to RB Zach Evans for a first down on fourth-and-4. The 49ers got the play reversed though after replay showed Wentz was down.

– Hawkins has had a really nice NFL debut. He got a bit physical on a deep shot though and got flagged for pass interference. That’ll help LA and puts them deep in 49ers territory.

– Wentz is unstoppable on the ground. He’s at 55 rushing yards on 14 carries and just plowed in for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Hawkins got beat by WR Tutu Atwell on the two-point conversion. It’s 21-20, Rams. Big-time drive coming up for Darnold.

– Good start for Darnold. He spun out left and found McCloud wide open after McCloud’s defender fell down, but the receiver couldn’t control the ball and had it jarred loose by a Rams DB. That’s tough for McCloud and surely one he wants back. It would’ve put the 49ers at the Rams’ 38. Instead it’s second-and-10.

– On second down Darnold got walloped and nearly had his throw intercepted. That’s one he needs to get rid of quicker.

– Now Darnold is sacked on third-and-10. It looked like Elijah Mitchell allowed Michael Hoecht to get off the edge and hit the QB. What a putrid series.

– The Rams got a first down with 2:12 left. That’s not the ball game, but it’s close.

– A tackle for loss by Oliver and Flannigan-Fowles makes it second-and-14 and things are interesting again.

– Wentz has carried 15(!) times.

– A 16th carry for Wentz ends with him getting whacked by Flannigan-Fowles on third-and-9. The 49ers won’t have any timeouts with under a minute to go to try and get in field goal range.

– A dime by Darnold gets dropped by Conley. Russ Yeast forced the incompletion on McCloud earlier. Now he gets one from Conley.

– This time Conley makes a grab on an 18-yard grab over the middle. Good throw from Darnold and San Francisco is in business.

– And Darnold fumbles. He didn’t take care of the ball while scrambling and just dropped it. That’s not good quarterbacking and this one is over after the Rams recover.

Final score: Rams 21, 49ers 20

Story originally appeared on Niners Wire