49ers' playoff hopes evaporated with knee injury to Jimmy Garoppolo

Losing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to injury quickly derailed the 49ers' season. Peter Aiken/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers finished the first half of the season with a 2-7 record. Here's a look at how they've fared and what's ahead:

First-half rewind: The hope for a quick turnaround and shot at playoff contention evaporated the moment quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3. It didn't help that they lost starting running back Jerick McKinnon to the same injury before the season even began. What's left behind is a roster full of holes and lacking in big-time playmakers capable of finishing out close games with wins. The results have been maddening for players, coaches and fans alike as the Niners have lost twice to the lowly Arizona Cardinals and are 1-4 in games decided by one possession. Grade: Bring on 2019.

What is the 49ers' biggest hole to fill? Game-changing players. Forget positional needs, this runs deeper. The 49ers' inability to win close games comes down to a lack of players who can turn a game in their favor. They've seen established stars like Larry Fitzgerald, Aaron Rodgers and emerging stars like Derwin James do it to them in losses this season. Niners coach Kyle Shanahan recently referred to the need for "closers." Ideally, the Niners can find those closers at particular positions of need like edge rusher, cornerback and wide receiver.

MVP: Tight end George Kittle. In a season with few bright spots, Kittle (41 receptions, 692 yards, three TDs) is emerging as one of the league's best tight ends. The rest of this season will be an important test for Kittle to prove he can stay healthy (an issue that plagued him as a rookie) and to continue to produce even without Garoppolo. If Kittle puts up big numbers with backup quarterbacks C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens, it should create plenty of excitement over what he can do when Garoppolo returns.

Biggest surprise: The effectiveness of the running game. The Niners have many issues but, frankly, none of them could be classified as a surprise. A rushing attack that underwent an offseason makeover has been, especially considering McKinnon didn't play a down before his season ended. When healthy, running back Matt Breida has been dynamic, Raheem Mostert showed some big-play ability but broke his arm against the Raiders, and Alfred Morris has been steady. All of that has added up to a running game that ranks second in yards and seventh in yards per carry.

Hurdle to overcome: Takeaway margin. The 49ers have been one of the league's worst teams when it comes to turning the ball over. Compounding matters is the fact that they've been equally bad taking it away from opponents. The Niners have enough of a talent deficit against many teams to overcome without the type of self-inflicted mistakes that have been a hallmark of the early part of the season. It has been better the past two weeks but if it doesn't improve on a consistent basis, the losses will continue to pile up.