San Francisco 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt had a potential trip to the Super Bowl in his sights Sunday. He ended up dropping it.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford's fourth-quarter deep shot over the middle of the field was intended for Van Jefferson, but it didn't have a chance of being completed. Tartt settled under it in perfect position for an interception that would have made the Rams' comeback highly unlikely, but when it came time to catch the ball for a massive interception near midfield, it bounced out of his grasp.
Stafford and the Rams capitalized on their second chance by covering 63 yards on the next eight plays, eventually reaching Matt Gay's range for a 40-yard, game-tying field goal. San Francisco wouldn't come close to scoring again, eventually falling to Los Angeles in the NFC Championship Game, 20-17.
Tartt owned up to his mistake immediately after the game.
"For me, it's tough. But it's a moment a lot of athletes I know dream of ... you can make that game-changing play," Tarrt told reporters after the game. "For me, it was something that I was thinking about all week. I know I can make that play, and the play came up and I ain't make it. I know that was a big play of the game, a big opportunity for me and for the team. As a player, I feel like I let my brothers down. But for us, we didn't play how we needed to play. ... Obviously my play was a crucial one that I left on the field. Really wish I can have it back, but at the end of the day, take your hat off to the Rams."
Tarrt added that he felt the 49ers were on the verge of a Super Bowl berth when Stafford's pass was approaching him.
"I see it, I'm like 'Oh yeah, he f----- up. We about to win this game,' " Tartt said. "It hit my hands. I thought I had it, and I dropped it."
After Tartt's dropped would-be interception, Stafford and the Rams gained the remaining 63 yards of their scoring drive via passes to Odell Beckham Jr. (for a total of 36 yards, plus 15 more yards via unnecessary roughness penalty) and Cooper Kupp (for 16 yards). Running plays netted the Rams -4 yards, leaving Stafford to do the heavy lifting through the air. He lifted enough to help the Rams tie the game at 17-17 with 6:53 left to play, while Tartt was left to attempt to pick up the pieces within the frenzy of a conference title game.
With the result still very much up for grabs, safety Jimmie Ward attempted to uplift his teammate.
"Catch the next one that's coming to you," Ward said he told Tartt after the miscue. "There's a lot of plays out there, and we could have did better including myself. ... There was a lot of other stuff going on on the field. It wasn't one play that cost us, it was a lot of plays."
Instead, none of the 49ers could recover, and they allowed the Rams to gain a combined 112 yards on their final two scoring drives. The latter of the two produced a 30-yard field goal that gave them a 20-17 lead.
It proved to be enough when Aaron Donald forced Jimmy Garoppolo to fling an errant pass toward running back JaMycal Hasty, deflecting off Hasty's hands and resulting in a game-sealing interception.
Tartt's drop could have been just as significant, had he held on. But as Ward said, San Francisco's loss was about more than one play. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they couldn't collectively hold onto what once appeared to be a road win and a trip to Super Bowl LVI.
They'll instead spend Feb. 13 at home, watching the NFL's biggest game while wondering what could have been.