San Francisco 49ers: 2019 Season in Review
Zach Donaldson recaps the 49ers' road to Super Bowl 54.
Entering the 2019 NFL season, most probably didn’t see a successful year for the San Francisco 49ers forthcoming. Fresh off a 4-12 campaign in which franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL with no definite No. 1 wide receiver, no clear-cut No. 1 running-back and a previously poor defense, there were a lot of questions yet to be solved for the 49ers. But just four months later, San Francisco is going to be representing the NFC in Super Bowl 54. Let’s take a look at what it took for them to reach the pinnacle of every NFL player’s dream.
After a disappointing 4-12 season, general manager John Lynch recognized the talent and potential that his team had, yet they were still a few pieces away from being a legit contender.
In the offseason, Lynch went out and signed a couple of key contributors on the defensive side of the ball. He handed out big contracts to 26-year old linebacker Kwon Alexander and 28-year old defensive end Dee Ford. Alexander unfortunately missed the majority of the season with a torn pectoral, but Ford was a huge piece to the team’s success on the defensive line.
There were a couple of surprise contributors this season for the 49ers as well. One that’s especially noteworthy is running back Raheem Mostert. A journeyman who was previously cut six times, Mostert earned a spot on the 49ers roster and became a huge part of their success down the stretch of the season. San Francisco rode the legs of Mostert to victory in the NFC championship over the Green Bay Packers, exploding for 220 yards and four touchdowns. Mostert, along with Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida, led the 49ers to the second-ranked rushing attack in the NFL.
The 49ers offense reached another level this season largely due to their strong rushing attack, but getting their franchise quarterback back from injury certainly helped. On top of that, head coach Kyle Shanahan has done a fantastic job putting his team in the best position to succeed. Shanahan is young, innovative, brilliant, and knows all that it takes to win in the NFL.
Garoppolo had himself a fantastic bounce-back year. During the first half of the season, he was more of a game manager. But in the second half, when an abundance of injuries began to accumulate for San Francisco, he really shined, especially late in games. Garoppolo concluded the regular season throwing for just under 4,000 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and his record as San Francisco’s starting QB now sits at a whopping 22-5.
But Garoppolo’s success couldn’t have been without a plethora of weapons surrounding him. Second-round wide receiver out of South Carolina Deebo Samuel had an extremely impressive rookie campaign, racking up 800 yards on 57 catches and scoring three touchdowns.
Still, Lynch felt that Samuel wasn’t going to be enough, so he went out and made what was one of the biggest trade acquisitions of the year, flipping a third- and a fourth-round pick for Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders became a huge difference-maker on the outside.
Last but certainly not least, there’s Garoppolo’s primary target, tight end George Kittle. Take a look at his play on fourth-and-2 in the waning moments of the fourth quarter in the 49ers’ Week 14 showdown versus the New Orleans Saints that would set up a game-winning 30-yard field goal for veteran kicker Robbie Gould. That’s all one needs to see to know about Kittle and his impact for the 49ers in terms of his receiving ability. He finished the season with 1,053 yards and five touchdowns on 85 receptions. He’s also a tremendous blocker and one of the chief reasons the 49ers’ rushing attack is so effective.
Keeping Garoppolo healthy had to be one of the 49ers’ main priorities of this season. Considering he’s still at the helm for Super Bowl 54, they succeeded mightily at that goal. It all starts up front, and the 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in the league protecting Garoppolo.
However, when talking about the trenches, the other side of the ball for the 49ers cannot be ignored. Going from one of the worst defenses in the league to arguably the best in just one year is incredible, and look no further than the defensive line to find where that turnaround was initiated. Led by Nick Bosa, the second overall pick in last year’s draft, the San Francisco defensive line plays with a level of physicality and grit that no team has yet to match. Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Dee Ford combined for 33 sacks this season. It’s a group that strikes fear into their opponents.
The 49ers also had the top-ranked pass defense in the NFL. The backside is loaded with talent, though credit is due to the defensive line. It certainly helps with the enormous amounts of pressure that it manufactures. Opposing quarterbacks averaged a lowly 169 passing yards per game against the 49ers this season.
Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman, who had an excellent bounce-back year after people ripped him for negotiating his own contract, proved the doubters wrong and is the leader of the secondary. He’s joined on the back end by Ahkello Witherspoon and high school teammates Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward, who are now going to be starting on the same defense in the Super Bowl.
With all their firepower locked and loaded, the 49ers began the season scorching hot, winning their first eight contests and being the last remaining unbeaten team, eventually reaching 8-0. They suffered their first loss in Week 10 to division rival Seattle.
After Alexander left with a torn pectoral muscle in a Week 8 thrashing of the Carolina Panthers, it was ‘next man up’ for the 49ers, and Fred Warner responded in a big way. The second-year linebacker out of BYU had himself a breakout season and is emerging as one of the better middle LBs in all of football.
Another linebacker who stepped up in Alexander’s absence is fifth-round rookie Dre Greenlaw. One could make an argument that the 49ers aren’t in this position right now without Greenlaw. In the 49ers’ Week 17 showdown with the Seahawks, Greenlaw laid a huge hit on tight end Jacob Hollister, stopping him short of the goal line and securing the victory, the division and a first-round bye for the 49ers.
San Francisco finished the regular season with a record of 13-3. Now, after two dominant performances in both the divisional and conference championship rounds, Kyle Shanahan and company are seeking to bring the city of San Francisco its first Lombardi trophy in 25 years.
Zach Donaldson is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.