How San Francisco Lost the NFC Championship Game

The 2021 NFC Championship Game came down to a five-game run early in the fourth quarter.

San Francisco held a 17-14 lead with 11:52 left in the game and possession near midfield after Jimmy Garoppolo hit Elijah Mitchell for 21 yards to start possession for the 49ers and then went connected with Deebo Samuel on a short throw to the right side for 12.

1-and-10, 49ers 47 — George Kittle clears the way for Elijah Mitchell at left guard with a nice block on Rams safety Eric Weddle and Mitchell recovers a 9 gain.

2nd-and-1, Rams 44 — After seeing the success of the first down, Kyle Shanahan decides to turn the game around and restart it with a slightly different formation. Another difference here is that they’re having wide receiver Trent Sherfield get the block on Weddle this time. Sherfield is unable to get to Weddle in time, and safety drops Mitchell in the backfield for a loss of 1.

3rd-and-2, Rams 45 — Shanahan tries to get the eyes of the Rams defense to open up an inside run from Kyle Juszczyk by putting left tackle Trent Williams in the backfield and sending him moving down the right side. Los Angeles defenders pay no attention to Williams and Rams defensive lineman Greg Gaines, who beats Daniel Brunskill’s block to drop Juszczyk with no gain.

Maintaining a three-point lead at this point, Kyle Shanahan opts to return the ball instead of kicking in on fourth down.

1st and 10, Rams 16

Matthew Stafford fakes the transfer and throws him deep in the field and the only person in the area is 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt. Instead of San Francisco gaining possession, the ball hits Tartt’s hands and falls to the ground for an incomplete.

2nd and 10, Rams 16

Emmanuel Moseley bites on Cooper Kupp’s short, leaving Odell Beckham Jr. all alone along the left sideline. Stafford sees it and puts the ball on Beckham for a gain of 29 yards. Jimmie Ward tries to get down to make the tackle but ends up hitting Beckham in the head and is flagged for a personal foul. The completion and ensuing penalty give Los Angeles a 44-yard gain.

The 49ers went from a first-down chance to a dropped turnover, with Los Angeles having the ball on their side of the field in what seemed like the blink of an eye.

This series of plays reversed all momentum towards the Rams who would score the final six points of the game and earn a trip to Super Bowl LVI.

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