LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jimmy Garoppolo went out with a flourish, leading the suddenly exciting San Francisco 49ers to their fifth straight win to end the season.
Now he heads into the offseason while Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and the rest of the Los Angeles Rams head into the franchise’s first playoff appearance since the 2004 season.
Garoppolo threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns to lead the 49ers to a 34-13 victory Sunday against a Rams team that chose to rest its big stars for the playoffs, including Goff, Gurley and Aaron Donald.
The Rams (11-5), who clinched the NFC West last weekend, got everything they hoped for: healthy players and the NFC’s No. 3 seed. They’ll host the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night.
First-year coach Sean McVay called the loss “humbling” but didn’t second-guess the decision to rest the stars.
“You certainly try to win the game,” he said, “but when you look at the way we approached it, we feel good about being able to allow some of players to get some rest, some recovery time that I think is much needed for those guys, and then you keep a couple of guys out of harm’s way.”
McVay welcomed the challenge of playing the Falcons, adding: “Our players will be juiced up to be able to get this preparation going and I know our coaches certainly feel that way, too.”
The 49ers (6-10) finished last in the division, but have hope with Garoppolo, who was Tom Brady’s backup with New England before being acquired on Oct. 31. He threw touchdown passes of 8 yards to Marquise Goodwin — who later left with a concussion after a brutal hit by Blake Countess — and 12 yards to Aldrick Robinson. Both receivers were wide open.
Garoppolo completed 20 of 33 passes, looking confident and making some brilliant throws. He also was intercepted twice. Of course, it helped not having to face Donald and the Rams’ four starting linebackers.
“We could keep going,” Garoppolo said. “It’s unfortunate that our season comes to an end like this, but hopefully for next year we keep this good thing going. … Next year’s team will have a different identity than this one did, but I think ending the season how we did definitely helped us.”
Carlos Hyde, who predicted last week that the Niners will win next season’s Super Bowl, ran 15 times for 90 yards, scoring on runs of 8 and 5 yards.
The game was marred when Goodwin was laid out with a shot to the left side of the helmet by Countess after an incomplete pass late in the first half. Goodwin flailed on the field for a moment before going still. He was tended to for several minutes before being helped to his feet and gingerly placed on a seat in the back of a cart. He motioned to fans with both hands and took off his helmet as he was driven up the tunnel at the LA Coliseum. He was ruled out with a concussion and taken to a hospital for evaluation.
Coach Kyle Shanahan said tests were positive and that Goodwin would return to the Bay Area with the team. “It was really good news. His scan passed fine,” Shanahan said. “It wasn’t as scary as it seemed. He’s going to be all right.”
Countess was flagged for unnecessary roughness for hitting a defenseless player. He was being evaluated for a concussion.
“Unbelievable the safety did that,” Garoppolo said. “It’s not good for our sport, it’s not good for anybody. It’s just a dirty play. Marquise is as tough as they come and he bounces back from just about everything, so hopefully he’ll be all right.”
Hyde scored on an 8-yard run on the next play.
“The O-line wanted to make a statement,” Garoppolo said. “We did that one for ‘Quise, I think.”
The catalyst for the 49ers’ late-season run, Garoppolo showed a nice touch in finding open receivers. Working from the Rams 8 late in the first quarter, Garoppolo’s primary receiver was covered, so the QB found Goodwin in the right flat for the easy score.
Early in the fourth, Robinson was wide open up the middle for his 12-yard scoring catch.
Robbie Gould capped the 49ers’ first drive with a 33-yard field goal. The big play on that drive was Garoppolo’s 44-yard pass to tight end George Kittle on third down. Kittle caught a short pass over the middle and broke it for a big gain.
The star running back was inactive, costing him the NFL rushing title. Gurley came into Sunday leading the NFL with 1,305 yards, followed by Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt with 1,292 and Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell with 1,291. Bell also sat out Sunday. Hunt’s first carry Sunday was for 35 yards and a touchdown, moving him past Gurley.
Rams: Will host Falcons at 5:15 p.m. Saturday.