Last April, the San Francisco 49ers were on the clock with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
The 49ers selected Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate who finished with nine sacks and a team-high 16.5 tackles for a loss. He ended up being a key piece for San Francisco’s stout defense.
With their next pick in the second round, the Niners took rookie wide receiver from South Carolina Deebo Samuel, who was an important part of their offensive success. Samuel, a dynamic weapon for head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, had 57 receptions for 802 yards and three touchdowns, and 159 rushing yards with three rushing scores.
With quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo returning under center after an ACL injury the year prior, the Niners were poised to be one of the better teams in all of football in 2019. Garoppolo tossed 27 passing touchdowns, the Niners rushing attack averaged 144.1 yards per game - which was second-best in the entire NFL - and they finished with a 13-3 record and the No. 1 overall seed in the loaded NFC.
After victory against the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Round, and then the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, San Francisco returned to its first Super Bowl since the 2012-13 season, when the 49ers fell to the Baltimore Ravens in the ‘Harbaugh Bowl’.
Now, the 49ers are back!
Get yourself ready for Super Bowl LIV with the Top 5 49ers Moments this season:
5. A 9-0 shutout win over the Redskins (Week 7 at Washington)
This particular victory over the Washington Redskins wasn’t anything to brag about. And no, it wasn’t their best win or most well-played game of the season.
What was it you ask? A sign that the 49ers were a team that could win in a variety of ways.
Kicker Robbie Gould connected on three field goals and the Niners came away with an ugly 9-0 victory over the Redskins.
This win came after victories over the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, and the Bengals in Cincinnati. Their first test of the season was against the Pittsburgh Steelers way back in Week 3, when the Niners overcame five turnovers, but Garoppolo tossed the game-winning score to wide receiver Dante Pettis with 1:15 left in the game to put San Francisco ahead for good.
The Niners proved to be the best team in all of football this season, winning with defense, in shootouts with some of the elite teams in the NFL, and they never lost a game by more than seven points.
4. San Francisco finishes with 5-1 record against NFC West opponents
Trivia question: What division was the best in all of football this season?
Answer: The NFC West.
The 49ers went 5-1 against their divisional rivals, and they were a game-winning field goal away in overtime against the Seattle Seahawks from being a perfect 6-0. San Francisco swept the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams with a 20-7 victory in Week 6, and a 34-31 shootout in Week 16. The Niners overcame the Arizona Cardinals and rookie QB Kyler Murray twice, a 28-25 Week 9 win and a 36-26 victory in Week 11, and they split with the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson.
3. Shootout in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Week 14 at New Orleans)
Remember when I said that the 49ers could win in a variety of ways? Well, here’s one example.
Garoppolo and his Niners went into future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees’ home and beat him at his own game.
Garoppolo tossed four touchdowns and threw for 349 yards in an impressive 48-46 victory in New Orleans over the Saints. Kicker Robbie Gould connected for the game-winning field goal as time expired to give the Niners the win in one of the most entertaining football games of the 2019-20 NFL season.
2. Outduel Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay… twice (Week 12 vs. GB, NFC Championship Game)
It’s hard enough to beat a team once, but to do it twice in one season is a completely different story.
In Week 12, Garoppolo threw for 253 yards and two scores, the Niners rushing attack piled up 112 yards on 22 carries, a 5.1 yard per attempt average, and the 49ers defense held the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers to a grand total of eight points in a 37-8 victory.
If that game didn’t convince you that the 49ers were a Super Bowl caliber team, then maybe their win over the Packers in the NFC Championship Game did. Running back Raheem Mostert emerged as head coach Kyle Shanahan’s primary running back as the season unfolded, and he was on full display in the most important game of the season at that point in time.
Mostert piled up 220 rushing yards on 29 carries to go with four rushing touchdowns in a 37-20 win to advance to Super Bowl LIV. San Francisco’s defense harassed Rodgers once again, in a three-sack, two-interception effort.
Rodgers dropped to 0-3 in his career vs. the 49ers in the postseason.
1. 49ers clinch No. 1 seed in NFC (Week 17 at Seattle)
There is no doubt about it that the Week 17 showdown against the Seahawks in Seattle, a 26-21 win for the 49ers, was the most important and the defining moment of the 2019-20 NFL season.
After suffering a disappointing 27-24 overtime loss at home against the Seahawks back in Week 10, a defeat which put an end to their 8-0 unbeaten run to start the year, the Niners knew there was much more at stake in this critical matchup.
In my very honest opinion, we would have a different representative from the NFC if the 49ers lost that final game of the season. Assuming they lost, they would have had to travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles in the Wildcard Round, then they would have had to go to New Orleans once again in the Divisional Round, and if they won that matchup, a date with either the Packers in Green Bay, or the Seahawks in Seattle would have followed in the NFC Championship Game.
Instead, the Niners earned the No. 1 seed for the first time since 1997, and they hosted and defeated the Vikings in the Divisional Round, and then the Packers in the NFC Championship.
By Dan Canova