When a calendar year includes parts of two seasons, the highs and lows for a particular team can be wide-ranging.
For the 49ers, 2020 started out on an emotional peak and is ending somewhere in the valley. While that trip hasn’t taken the 49ers to the depths of the NFL standings, that is of little solace to fans who have waited a quarter-century for another Super Bowl championship.
While that wait has been extended another year with the 49ers officially eliminated from this season’s playoffs, a return to a healthy roster in 2021 and the maturation of this year’s young players give optimism for that drought to end sooner rather than later.
Here are the top five stories from 2020:
Stuck on five
1The Niners had one of their most complete teams in years, ranking No. 2 in offense and defense. So when they took a 20-10 lead late in the third quarter of Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs, it seemed like the team was poised to win its first championship since the 1994 season. But Patrick Mahomes engineered a 21-point explosion by the Chiefs over the final 9 minutes of the game to spoil the Niners’ dream. Trailing 24-20, the 49ers’ last gasp was snuffed out on three incompletions and a sack. The loss was the Niners’ second in the Super Bowl since winning their fifth championship in Super Bowl XXIX.
Injury bug bites hard
2 Injuries are part of football and every team has to deal with its fair share of casualties. But the 49ers’ 2020 season took a bad turn early when several starters went down in a Week 2 win over the New York Jets. Defensive end Joey Bosa, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, running back Raheem Mostert and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas were among the key players sustaining injuries of various severities. This came with tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel already sidelined. Add in the number of players who had COVID-19 or were close contacts, and the Niners have played with a short deck this season.
3 Quarterback is a glamor position, particularly with the 49ers. This season, however, it has been an extremely vexing position for the Niners. Garoppolo has played in just six games with only seven touchdown passes and five interceptions. Second-stringer Nick Mullens has been ineffective, with 15 turnovers (12 interceptions) in eight starts. No. 3 quarterback C.J. Beathard, a third-round draft pick in 2017, has appeared in four games with little impact. While Garoppolo is owed $53.4 million over the next two seasons, the Niners could move on with little damage to the salary cap. A quarterback in next year’s draft is likely a priority.
Drafting a future
4 In order to build a foundation for success, a team needs to draft well, especially in the early rounds. Following four straight seasons of 10 or more losses (2015-18), the Niners had top-10 picks in the ensuing drafts and hit on players such as Bosa, Samuel, Thomas and offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey in the first two rounds. The 2020 draft saw the 49ers in the No. 31 slot. Through trades, the Niners picked up defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw and receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who have each had a significant impact during their rookie season. General manager John Lynch figures to have another high pick following this year’s poor record.
Home away from home
5 To say the 49ers have had to deal with a lot of adversity this season is an understatement. In addition to the multitude of injuries and players sidelined by COVID-19, the Niners had another wrench thrown at them. Santa Clara County issued a temporary ban on contact sports that began Dec. 1, meaning no games or practices could take place in the county. With two home games looming in the three-week window the ban covered, the Niners needed to relocate. Quickly, the 49ers struck a deal with the Arizona Cardinals to practice and play in Glendale, Ariz. The Niners will end up playing three times in four weeks at State Farm Stadium.