Kyle Shanahan refused to reveal who the San Francisco 49ers will start at quarterback with Jimmy Garoppolo listed as questionable ahead of their critical Week 18 clash with the Los Angeles Rams.

The Niners visit SoFi Stadium on Sunday aiming to extend their winning streak over the Rams to six games. A victory in the regular-season finale will clinch a playoff berth for the second time in three seasons.

Should the 49ers lose, then they would need the New Orleans Saints to suffer defeat to the Atlanta Falcons to secure their spot in the Wild Card round. A San Francisco loss and a Saints win would put New Orleans in the playoffs.

They will be facing a Rams team looking to clinch the NFC West title for the first time since the 2018 season.

And it remains unclear whether the Niners will do so with Garoppolo or rookie third overall pick Trey Lance under center.

Garoppolo missed the 49ers' 23-7 win over the Houston Texans in Week 17 after suffering a torn ligament in his right thumb in San Francisco's Week 16 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

After a shaky first half, Lance impressed in his stead, throwing for 249 yards, two touchdowns and an interception while adding 31 yards on the ground.

The 21-year-old, making only his second start, averaged the most air yards per attempt (11.91) of any quarterback last week and delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 82.6 per cent of his attempts.

However, Garoppolo has practiced in a limited capacity for three straight days, boosting hopes of a return to the starting line-up that head coach Shanahan would not confirm.

Garoppolo was listed as questionable and Shanahan told a media conference: "He had a good week. Yeah, a good week of practice when he was in there. I feel good with where he is at right now."

He added: "I know what we're doing. I just don't feel like telling you right now.

"I'm not deciding Sunday morning. We don't have any practice left. I know where Jimmy's at today. I know where Trey's at. I know where our team is at and I feel pretty good about where we're at, so I'm excited to get to Sunday. I am really glad I don't have any press conferences after today.

"I think you guys understand why you don't announce it. But regardless, especially with Trey playing last week, we've got two guys here with some experience that our team feels good with and we'll see how it plays out."

San Francisco's Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams has not practiced all week and is listed as questionable. In the secondary, cornerback Emmanuel Moseley is expected to return from an ankle injury while rookie corner Ambry Thomas came off the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Corners K'Waun Williams, Dontae Johnson and Deommodore Lenoir and starting free safety Jimmie Ward remain on the COVID-19 list, though both Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have expressed confidence more members of their secondary will be activated off the list on Saturday.

Cooper Kupp is closing in on what he concedes would be an "incredible" achievement of earning the NFL triple crown.

The Los Angeles Rams wide receiver leads the league in catches, touchdown receptions and receiving yards going into Week 18 of the regular season.

Only three players in the Super Bowl era have ever finished top of the standings in all three categories in the same year: Jerry Rice, Sterling Sharpe and Steve Smith. It is 16 years since the feat was last achieved.

Kupp has 138 receptions for 1,829 yards, totals which look highly unlikely to be caught in the last week of action before the playoffs.

His total of 15 touchdowns also looks strong, although the Cincinnati Bengals' rookie sensation Ja'Marr Chase has closed to within two behind him in that category after finding the endzone three times against the Kansas City Chiefs last time out.

Kupp's shot at history will come when the Rams host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the team still looking to wrap up the NFC West title with the Arizona Cardinals in hot pursuit behind them.

"It would be a pretty incredible thing," Kupp said, per ESPN, of the prospect of earning the triple crown.

"There are a lot of good football players in this league, a lot of really good receivers who I've got a ton of respect for, so it would be very cool."

Kupp will also have the chance to set the single-season receiving yards record, which is currently held by Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson (1,964 in 2012).

The 28-year-old could also surpass the receptions record set by Michael Thomas (149) two years ago.

But Kupp concedes those records would come with an asterisk given the NFL is now playing a 17-game regular season.

"We're in a new age of football here," he said. "We're playing 17 games of football a year, and a lot of the stuff that happened before that, those records hold a different weight, being played in those 16 games.

"What those guys did in 16 games, it wouldn't seem right to, I don't know, for those to be broken in 17 games.

"It wouldn't hold the same weight to me as it does for guys that have done that in a 16-game season and the accomplishments those guys had and the seasons they put together. 

"Those are incredible things, incredible accomplishments. You kind of have to separate the two.

"I just have an incredible respect for what those guys were able to do, what they were able to accomplish, what they were able to produce for their teams in those 16 games."

The Rams are assured of a place in the playoffs regardless of the outcome against the Niners, but the prize of a home playoff game in Wild Card Weekend and a division title mean the stakes are still high.

"My priorities are going out and winning this game this week, whatever it takes to win it," added Kupp, when asked if setting records were his priority.

"If it means spending more time blocking defensive ends and being able to get [running back] Sony Michel sprung for some big gains, that would be huge. 

"I just want to do my job, whatever they ask of me, I just want to do my job over and over again and be a part of helping this team win."

The Rams face a Niners team who are looking to seal their own postseason berth. 

To progress, Kyle Shanahan's team must win or tie against the Rams or hope the New Orleans Saints fail to beat the Atlanta Falcons.

Kyle Shanahan praised an efficient and at times explosive performance from Trey Lance but did not rule out Jimmy Garoppolo returning and starting for the San Francisco 49ers in Week 18.

With Garoppolo sidelined due to torn ligaments in his thumb, rookie third overall pick Lance got the start and recovered from a shaky first half to help the 49ers to a 23-7 win over the Houston Texans.

Lance tossed a bad interception in the first half but appeared more settled after a field-goal drive to end the second quarter and subsequently threw a pair of touchdowns, including a 45-yard strike to Deebo Samuel, to put the Niners a win away from a playoff berth.

He finished the game 16 of 23 passing for 249 yards and also ran for a further 31 yards.

The Niners will reach the postseason for the second time in three seasons if they beat the 12-4 Los Angeles Rams in Week 18 or if the New Orleans Saints lose to the Atlanta Falcons. Should San Francisco lose and the Saints beat the Falcons, the Niners will miss out on the postseason.

That places the situation at quarterback into sharp focus, with head coach Shanahan leaving the door open to Garoppolo making a quick return despite reports he will need surgery after the season.

Asked if Garoppolo tried throwing on Saturday or Sunday, Shanahan replied: "I don't know if he threw today [Sunday]. I didn't even ask, just talking to him yesterday I had a pretty good idea that we weren't going to even push it today.

"I think he'll be able to do it this week. Still, that's just me giving you guys an honest guess. Hopefully, I'll have a better idea by Wednesday.

"If Jimmy's a hundred per cent healthy and could do everything, like perfect, then I would definitely go with Jimmy. I'm not just going to throw a guy in after one game like this, when Jimmy's been doing it for us all year.

"I think it's going to be hard for Jimmy to be a hundred percent, which is how most people are right now at this time of year. But Trey did a good job, if Jimmy can't go, we won't hesitate at all. But if we feel Jimmy can go and play confident, then Jimmy will be out there."

Assessing Lance's performance, Shanahan said: "I think he did some real good things, besides the bad interception, I thought he protected the ball real well.

"That was a big thing going into this game and he did a good job on all those except for one play. I think he was very efficient, just looking at his numbers. That big play at the end was huge. For the most part, he made some pretty good decisions running the ball.

"I thought the defense and special teams played really well. Holding them to three yards per play on defense, special teams, we've been down here over this last month and this at least felt like that was one of our better games in a while.

"I think that allowed us to be more comfortable on offense, start to get into a rhythm and not really press and just let it happen naturally."

The Arizona Cardinals continued their excellent road form as they edged the Dallas Cowboys 25-22 in a potential-playoff preview with Kyler Murray leading the way on Sunday.

The Cardinals improved their season record to 11-5 and their road record to 8-1, snapping a three-game skid, with Texas-born Murray throwing two touchdowns as he completed 26 of 38 attempts for 263 yards.

The Cowboys had trailed 22-7 at the final charge but stormed back into contention as Dak Prescott threw three TD passes for the game but Murray expertly managed the clock late.

Murray found Antoine Wesley for two TDs including a spectacular catch in the third quarter, while Jonathan Ward made a remarkable helmet catch on a fake punt.

The Cowboys lost Michael Gallup to injury upon his second-quarter receiving touchdown and did not return, not helping their cause.

Prescott, who completed 24 of 38 passes for 226 yards along with 20 rushing yards, found Cedrick Wilson and Amari Cooper for final-quarter TDs to tighten the game but he also had a costly fumble at 22-14.

Chargers snap skid as Williams scores 101-yard return

The Los Angeles Chargers snapped a two-game skid with a 34-13 victory over the Denver Broncos to boost their Wild Card hopes as they improve to a 9-7 record.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert threw 22 of 31 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns, breaking the franchise record for single-season touchdown passes at 35.

Andre Williams scored a 101-yard kickoff return touchdown in the fourth quarter, while Austin Ekeler returned to LA's line-up and was important, with 17 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown, along with three receptions for 54 yards.

 

Lance leads 49ers to key win in Wild Card race

Trey Lance stepped in for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo and provided two touchdown passes as the San Francisco 49ers won 23-7 over the Houston Texans.

Lance completed 16 of 23 passes for 249 yards with the two TDs and an interception to help the 49ers improve to 9-7 in the NFC Wild Card pursuit.

Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell scored the touchdowns as the 49ers scored 20 second-half points to secure the win.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is bullish that he can play through his right thumb injury in Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.

The 49ers are 8-7 in the NFC West and can secure a playoffs berth with victory against the Texans.

Garoppolo, who will be a key part of their postseason bid, only threw under supervision at the team's Wednesday practice but said he was "definitely" a chance to play.

"I played the entire game with it basically, so it's really just about being able to grip the ball and do the things I normally do and we're gonna go test those out today, see how it feels and go from there," Garoppolo told reporters. "But I feel confident in it."

Garoppolo had missed the 49ers' bonus practice on Monday as he waiting for swelling in the thumb to subside.

"We'll see how it looks today," Garoppolo added on Wednesday. "If it looks good, it looks good. If it looks bad, it looks bad.

"It's just one of those things that you have got to test it out and go through it. Until we do that, it will be hard to say. But we'll all be on the same page and we'll do the right thing for the team."

The 49ers QB continued: "It's a torn ligament so it is what it is. The pain, it's not going anywhere so I know what that feels like but it's just about being confident and going out there and being able to do what I normally do with the football. We'll see where it gets us but I feel good right now with it."

Garoppolo has a completion rate of 68 percent this season for 3,494 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions across 14 games.

If Garoppolo is not deemed fit, rookie Trey Lance will be in line to make his second NFL start having filled in against the Arizona Cardinals on October 10.

Jimmy Garoppolo was absent as the San Francisco 49ers resumed practice on Monday fuelling doubts about his availability for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.

The 49ers quarterback has been battling a thumb injury which was aggravated in Thursday's 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Garoppolo's status for Sunday's game is unknown but he is considered day-to-day, meaning Trey Lance could deputise for him.

"We knew his thumb was hurting him," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters. "We thought he jammed it sometime in the game, so he tells us right when he comes to the bench."

He added: "I think this last month of Trey has been his best consecutive four weeks at practice since we've had him.

"He's had a number of good days and he's had some bad days like most guys do, but as far as his consistency and stuff, I feel this last month has been his best."

Shanahan indicated Garoppolo suffered the injury in the second quarter against the Titans when sacked by Denico Autry, with the QB playing on but struggling with two costly interceptions.

The 49ers will re-assess Garoppolo's availability for Sunday's game on Wednesday.

Garoppolo has a completion rate of 68 percent this season for 3,494 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions across 14 games.

Mike Vrabel declared "we're not dead yet" after the Tennessee Titans fought back to beat the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 on Thursday.

The Titans were 10-0 down at half-time, but touchdowns from D'Onta Freeman and the returning A.J. Brown put them in front.

Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who completed 26 of 35 passes for 322 yards, threw his only TD pass for Brandon Aiyuk to level the game in the fourth quarter.

Randy Bullock had the final say, though, making no mistake with a field goal with four seconds left, ensuring Tennessee (10-5) can win the AFC South if the Arizona Cardinals beat the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Titans head coach Vrabel said: "The funeral for the Titans was supposed to be yesterday or today. We're not dead yet."

Brown was making his first appearance since Week 11 after recovering from a chest injury and certainly made his presence felt.

The wide receiver took a career-high 11 catches for 145 yards and was able to celebrate a long-awaited touchdown.

Vrabel said of Brown: "We understand how important he is to our football team. Love him as a person. Glad to have him back."

He added: "A.J''s fantastic. We expect those things from A.J."

Ryan Tannehill threw 22 of 29 passes for 209 yards while Brown finished with 11 receptions for 145 yards.

Defeat for the 49ers (8-7) ensured the Dallas Cowboys (10-4) will feature in the playoffs for the first time in three years.

Dallas (10-4) clinched its first playoff berth in three years Thursday, thanks to the Tennessee Titans' 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

Randy Bullock's last-gasp 44-yard field goal has completed the Tennessee Titans' brilliant come-from-behind 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday.

The Titans trailed 10-0 at half-time but fought back with two second-half touchdowns from D'Onta Freeman and A.J. Brown, on his return from a chest injury, to take the lead.

San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who completed 26 of 35 passes for 322 yards, threw his only TD pass for Brandon Aiyuk to square the game in the fourth quarter before Bullock's late field goal with four seconds left after the Titans expertly managed the clock.

The result means the Titans can clinch the AFC South division if the Arizona Cardinals beat the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

The 49ers were left to rue costly Garoppolo errors, having thrown two interceptions as well as over-throwing a golden opportunity for a TD.

Ryan Tannehill managed the clock brilliantly after Aiyuk squared the game up with 2:20 left, with the Titans quarterback going on a 23-yard run in the decisive drive.

Tannehill threw 22 of 29 passes for 209 yards while Brown finished with 11 receptions for 145 yards.

The result leaves the 49ers with an 8-7 record to sit third in the NFC West.

The Indianapolis Colts have dominated selection for the Pro Bowl with seven players named for the game due to be played on 6 February in Las Vegas for the first time.

Colts' MVP contender running back Jonathan Taylor was among five players confirmed earlier this week but he was joined by six other team-mates as the full NFC and AFC rosters were revealed on Wednesday.

Indianapolis also had center Ryan Kelly, guard Quenton Nelson, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, linebacker Darius Leonard, cornerback Kenny Moore II and special teams long snapper Luke Rhodes all selected, with the Colts enjoying a run of five wins in six games to sit second in the AFC South.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady had already been named earlier this week for a record 15th Pro Bowl, with Arizona Cardinals' Kyler Murray and Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers joining him as NFC QBs.

The selected AFC quarterbacks were Los Angeles Chargers' Justin Herbert, Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson and Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes.

The Chiefs and Chargers had six players selected in total, while the Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Bucs all had five representatives.

Four rookies were selected in Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts, Chargers offensive tackle Rashawn Slater and Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons.

The NFC and AFC rosters are determined by a vote of the fans, players and coaches.

Aaron Rodgers hit another career milestone as the Green Bay Packers held off a fourth-quarter charge by the Baltimore Ravens to clinch the NFC North with a 31-30 victory Sunday. 

Division champions for the third consecutive year, the Packers became the first NFL team to lock up a playoff berth. 

Green Bay led 31-17 before Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley, making his second career start, ran for a pair of touchdowns in the final five minutes. 

After the second of those, with 45 seconds remaining, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh opted to go for a two-point conversion that would have put the Ravens (8-6) on top, but Huntley could not connect on his pass attempt to Mark Andrews. 

That last defensive stand allowed Rodgers and the Packers (11-3) to escape with a win that gave them the division crown as the veteran quarterback completed 23 of 31 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns.

The last of those, an 11-yard strike to Marquez Valdes-Scantling early in the fourth quarter, was the 442nd touchdown pass of the quarterback's career, tying him with Brett Favre for the most in Packers history. 

His opposite number Sunday, the 23-year-old Huntley, was starting with Ravens star Lamar Jackson sidelined by ankle injury. 

Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2020, Huntley had a brilliant game, rushing for 73 yards and two scores while completing 28 of 40 passes for 215 yards and two more scores. 

Andrews was his top target all day, catching 10 passes for 136 yards and both of those TDs, but the tight end could not get his hands on the critical conversion try at the end. 

 

Bengals edge Broncos after Bridgewater injury

Joe Burrow hit Tyler Boyd for a 56-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter that proved the difference as the Cincinnati Bengals picked up a key road win with a 15-10 defeat of the Denver Broncos. 

The lone Bengals TD of the afternoon came about five minutes after the Broncos (7-7) lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a head injury. 

Bridgewater collided with Bengals linebacker Joe Bachie in a scramble out of the backfield and both players went down. Bridgewater had to be carted off the field and was transported to a Denver hospital as a precaution. 

His replacement, Drew Lock, finished the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Tim Patrick but Denver did not score again. 

Burrow completed 15 of 22 passes for 157 yards for the Bengals (8-6), who are tied with the Ravens atop the AFC North. 

 

Garoppolo, 49ers keep up winning ways

The San Francisco 49ers rolled to their fifth victory in six games, downing the Atlanta Falcons 31-13. 

Jimmy Garoppolo completed 18 of 23 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown and Jeff Wilson Jr. rushed for 110 yards and a score for San Francisco (8-6). 

The victory coupled with division leader Arizona's stunning loss in Detroit earlier Sunday kept the 49ers firmly in playoff contention as they sit third in the NFC West behind the Cardinals (10-4) and Los Angeles Rams (9-4). 

George Kittle made NFL history on Sunday as the San Francisco 49ers tight end proved impossible to stop in their dramatic overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The 49ers surrendered a 20-6 lead in the fourth quarter, the Bengals fighting back to force overtime before taking a 23-20 lead in the extra period.

However, the Niners responded and clinched a 26-23 victory on a walk-off 12-yard touchdown from wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who made a spectacular dive for the pylon as they improved to 7-6.

While it was Aiyuk who produced the defining play of the game, the common thread for the Niners' offensive success was Kittle.

Kittle made three catches on that final drive after making an incredible leaping grab on San Francisco's last drive of regulation, setting up a 47-yard game-winning field goal attempt that was missed by Robbie Gould.

He finished the game with 13 receptions for 151 yards and a touchdown.

Having exploded for 181 yards and two touchdowns in the previous week's loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Kittle became the first tight end in NFL history to record successive games with at least 150 receiving yards and a touchdown.

He also joined Zach Ertz (four games), Jason Witten (four) and Kellen Winslow Sr. (three) as only the fourth tight end with three games with 13 or more receptions.

And game-winner Aiyuk lavished praise on his team-mate in his post-game media conference.

"That's a different dude," Aiyuk said. "Huge third down plays, just plays all over the field… that's a special dude – real special dude."

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo added: "George showed out today, he really did. When you have a guy like that you can lean on, it's a nice feeling as a quarterback."

Kittle's historic day came despite the Bengals' defense exhausting all options to slow him down.

"We tried like hell to take him away," Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor told reporters. "We tried everything. He's one of the best tight ends out there. We've known that for a long time.

"He had similar production last week — he had almost 200 yards receiving — so it's not like he surprises people.

"You saw the catch he made that almost won them the game in regulation and put them in field goal range. When a guy is that explosive, and has that big of hands with that kind of catch radius, he makes a lot of plays. And I promise we tried like hell to take him away, and he just finds a way to make those plays."

Tom Brady was the hero in another historic performance as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar inspired a 33-27 overtime win against the Buffalo Bills in the NFL.

Brady – who surpassed Drew Brees for the most pass completions in league history – became the first quarterback to throw 700 career touchdowns on Sunday and that milestone 58-yard TD settled the contest with the visiting Bills in OT.

Overtime was needed after reigning Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers (10-3) squandered a 24-3 half-time lead against the Bills (7-6).

Brady had thrown for a touchdown and ran for another after Leonard Fournette's 47-yard dash set the tone for the Buccaneers in the first half before the rallying Bills silenced the home crowd.

Josh Allen (36-of-54 passing for 308 yards, two touchdowns and an interception) was the instigator for the Bills with a pair of touchdown passes in the final period, after the quarterback's third-quarter run helped reduce the deficit.

Tyler Bass' 25-yard field goal 22 seconds from the end forced OT but Brady had the final say in another memorable moment in an incredible career – the seven-time Super Bowl champion and Breshad Perriman combining for a 58-yard score in the additional period.

Brady (31-of-46 passing for 363 yards and two TDs without an interception) maintained his dominant record against the Bills – the 44-year-old's 33 wins over Buffalo in 36 career starts are the most in NFL history against one team by a starting quarterback.

 

Niners also win in overtime

Overtime was needed to settle another game on Sunday, with the San Francisco 49ers prevailing 26-23 at the Cincinnati Bengals.

In a thrilling ending, Brandon Aiyuk hauled in the winning score on a 12-yard pass from Jimmy Garoppolo before staying in bounds and leapfrogging into the endzone.

The Bengals used a 14-0 final quarter to send the game into OT but the playoff-chasing 49ers managed to see off Cincinnati.

The San Francisco 49ers were hoping to write a new chapter in their rivalry with the Seattle Seahawks.

It ended up being the same old story.

Riding a three-game winning streak that had propelled them into the thick of the NFC playoff race, the Niners were expected to prevail against a 3-8 Seahawks team at their lowest ebb.

Instead, a mistake-strewn display allowed Seattle to launch what could prove the last stand of the Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson era, the Seahawks keeping the Niners out of the endzone at the end of a last-ditch 95-yard drive to preserve a 30-23 win, their 14th in 16 games against the 49ers since the beginning of the 2014 season.

San Francisco could not have done more to help Seattle as the Niners missed a chance to move to 7-5 and cement their grip on a playoff berth.

It was another frustrating day in an up-and-down campaign for a team that two seasons ago was the unquestioned elite of the NFC and, while the defeat was the product of a multitude of failures, the 49ers' rollercoaster 2021 is emblematic of a quarterback akin to a thrill ride many are eager to escape from.

Talent across the board

Examine the 49ers' roster and you will find top-level talent in almost every area.

George Kittle's monstrous performance in Seattle was yet another illustration of the playmaking capability at their disposal.

Racking up 189 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches, Kittle produced a big play on five of his 12 targets against the Seahawks, thriving as the focal point of the Niners' offense with Deebo Samuel out with a groin injury.

It is Samuel who was the catalyst of that three-game winning run, the 2019 second-round pick compiling an Offensive Player of the Year resume with his exploits as both a wide receiver and a running back.

With two rushing touchdowns in Week 12 against the Minnesota Vikings, Samuel became the first wide receiver in the Super Bowl era to score on the ground in three straight games. He is tied for the league lead with 14.9 scrimmage yards per touch and has 10 total touchdowns to his name.

The first Niners wideout to surpass 1,000 receiving yards since 2014, Samuel leads all players at his position with 9.5 yards after catch per reception. Kittle is sixth among tight ends with 222 yards after catch, a tally padded by his incredible 48-yard catch and run for his second touchdown on Sunday.

Between that duo and the resurgent Brandon Aiyuk, whose big-play rate of 39.7 per cent is ninth among wideouts with at least 25 targets, the 49ers possess three significant passing-game threats whose versatility is a constant problem for defenses.

In addition to Samuel's exploits as a runner, the Niners' rushing attack also features arguably the top rookie running back in the league in Elijah Mitchell, whose 84.3 yards per game on the ground are the most among first-year tailbacks.

That ground game is aided significantly by the play of the man most consider the league's elite left tackle in 2021. Trent Williams headed into Week 13 with a run-block win rate of 84.91 per cent and a pass-block win rate of 89.32 per cent that are both a long way above the respective league averages of 73.16 per cent and 78.60 per cent for the tackle position.

On the other side of the trenches, defensive end Nick Bosa is third in the league in sacks with 12 and tied for the NFL lead with 16 tackles for loss, serving as the undoubted star of a defense that held Seattle to 4.8 yards per play and forced three turnovers despite the absence of All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner.

Even without Samuel, the 49ers objectively had enough talent at their disposal to prevail and improve to 7-5, especially with a strong effort from the defense. Their failure to stretch the winning run to four games was not down to the injury to Samuel, but an infuriating lack of execution that has been a recurring problem in 2021.

Turnovers, penalties a continuing plague

While sections of the box score reflect the dominance the Niners enjoyed for long periods against Seattle, it is easy to identify the areas where it went wrong.

They committed three turnovers, were called for 10 penalties and went three for 10 on third down, losing the time of possession battle against a team that ranks last in that category.

It was a frustratingly familiar tale for the Niners, who lost to Seattle in Week 4 in strikingly similar fashion and have frequently been plagued by turnovers and penalties this season.

The Niners are 23rd in the NFL with a turnover differential of minus 4, while they have given up the fourth-most penalty yardage per game in the NFL (65.25).

Miscues on defense and on their special teams, which gave up a fake punt touchdown and lost a fumble as Travis Benjamin dropped the opening kickoff of the second half, contributed to the Niners continually gifting free plays and extra possessions to the Seahawks.

Yet, beyond the obvious poor discipline in other areas, the 49ers' latest Seattle horror show was an encapsulation of the pitfalls of trusting your offense to a quarterback as volatile as Jimmy Garoppolo.

Garoppolo's limitations again laid bare

The Niners' winning streak had quieted most of the questions surrounding when Kyle Shanahan would bench Garoppolo for rookie third overall pick Trey Lance, San Francisco's starter having largely played well across each of those victories.

And Garoppolo was, for the most part, accurate against the Seahawks. He delivered a well-thrown ball on 90 per cent of his pass attempts, trailing only Derek Carr and Gardner Minshew for Week 13.

However, two of the Niners' three turnovers came as a result of brutal interceptions from Garoppolo. San Francisco's defense prevented the first, on which Garoppolo failed to spot the underneath coverage of Bobby Wagner and threw the ball right to the Seattle linebacker, from resulting in points.

They could not do the same following the second, however, Garoppolo inexplicably trying to force a ball to Kittle despite double coverage when he had Trent Sherfield open on a corner route, with that pick followed by the ultimately decisive touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett.

Intercepted eight times in 2021, Garoppolo has thrown a pickable pass on 14 of his 300 attempts, that ratio of 4.67 per cent inferior to the league average of 3.78 per cent.

With a passer rating of 83.2 on passes of 21 air yards or more that is 23rd among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts of that distance, the book on Garoppolo remains the same. At his best, he can execute Kyle Shanahan's offense to a high level, but he consistently limits its potential by struggling to push the ball downfield, committing mind-boggling interceptions and failing to create outside the pocket.

Exacerbating the frustration around Garoppolo's consistent inconsistency is that Lance, an athletic dual-threat quarterback and a more gifted downfield thrower, would theoretically remove those two limiting factors with which his more experienced team-mate continues to shackle the offense.

The 49ers are not short of their problems elsewhere on the roster. The right side of the offensive line is a major issue and the lack of depth at cornerback has been frequently exposed.

Yet those concerns are exacerbated when a team has a quarterback who cannot create for himself when the pocket breaks down and who regularly puts the defense under pressure with ill-advised throws that are all too often a part of his repertoire.

Though the penalties and mistakes from his team-mates have been too common to simply label Sunday's performance in Seattle as an aberration, the more common thread in losses for the 49ers this season has concerned Garoppolo and the limitations to his game that have long since been apparent.

With the stars they have on both sides of the ball, the 49ers should be much more than a 6-6 team scrapping for a Wild Card and coming up short against the worst Seahawks team of the Carroll-Wilson era. The likelihood is San Francisco will make the playoffs but, for them to have hope of and making any noise in the postseason, it would require a switch to a quarterback with the potential to be much more than Garoppolo.

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