Garoppolo's last first impression
Earlier in the week, a number of 49ers expressed at least some disappointment that the Rams wouldn't be playing many of their key starters so as to be as healthy as possible for the postseason. Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo wasn't one of them, though, as he insisted on keeping the same approach every week to a "faceless" opponent.
Still, it would have been entertaining and informative to see how Garoppolo and the Niners' much-improved offense fared against the likes of Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald & Co. Alas, it didn't happen, but that doesn't mean Garoppolo didn't try to take advantage of the opportunity and add one more strong performance to close the season.
Of course, with the Rams resting most of their starters, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was a bit more inclined to cut some of his backups loose in an effort to get a better feel for what he has.
As it turned out, Garoppolo wasn't quite at his best, but he didn't really have to be against the Rams' backups. He finished 20-of-33 for 292 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 84.4. The two interceptions were a bit alarming considering both were thrown to covered receivers and both resulted in early points for the Rams.
Still, Garoppolo mostly righted the ship and with a strong running game helping out, the Niners cruised to the victory.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers' defense also faced a much less difficult challenge as the Rams didn't play quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, center John Sullivan and a host of others.
That meant Sean Mannion made his first NFL start for the Rams in his third season. Mannion had appeared in six games, attempting 16 passes in those chances. He was 11-of-16 for 66 yards with no touchdowns and an interception in those appearances.
At running back, Malcolm Brown stepped in for Gurley. He'd averaged 3.92 yards per carry on 49 attempts with a touchdown and a fumble as Gurley's backup this season.
It was hard to know what to expect from the Rams with such different personnel on the field, but when inexperience becomes a factor, so too can mistakes. Mannion didn't seem likely to take the chances that Goff would throwing the ball down the field and that's exactly how it played out.
Mannion finished 20-of-34 for 169 yards with a passer rating of 71.8 and rarely tested the Niners down the field. In fairness, he was the victim of a handful of key drops that could have gone for big gains. Brown, meanwhile, had little room to run behind an offensive line featuring just one usual starter, carrying 14 times for 54 yards.
The Niners didn't intercept Mannion but they did force him to fumble and recover it. In fact, the Niners came up with a pair of fumble recoveries to help offset Garoppolo's interceptions.
Milestones in the making
This isn't really a key to the game, but a handful of Niners entered Sunday with a chance to reach some benchmarks as the season came to a close. A small sample:
WR Marquise Goodwin needed 66 receiving yards to get to 1,000 for the season. He finished with 28 yards before leaving with a concussion to finish with 962 yards on the year.
K Robbie Gould needed nine points to set a career-high in points scored in a season and top the 143 he had in 2006. Gould surpassed the mark, scoring 10 points. Gould's 145 points are the second-most in a season in franchise history and his 39 made field goals are the most in the NFL this season.
RB Carlos Hyde needed one rushing touchdown to set a career high with seven, and 150 rushing yards to post the first 1,000-yard season of his career. Hyde scored twice to set a new high in touchdown runs with eight but came up 60 yards short of his first 1,000-yard season.
FB Kyle Juszczyk needed 26 receiving yards to set a new career high. He had four catches for 19 yards, coming up 7 yards shy of a new personal record.
P Bradley Pinion needed one punt downed inside the 20 to get to 32 on the season and set a new career high. Pinion had to punt only twice all day and neither dropped inside the 20, leaving him one shy of that mark.