Loss to Ravens means bigger implications for Niners-Saints

BALTIMORE -- Long ago, the San Francisco 49ers moved past the point of claiming any moral victories.

Sunday's narrow 20-17 defeat at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens will undoubtedly sting as the Niners regroup in Florida this week. And it should, as San Francisco had many chances to steal a road win against the league's hottest team.

That they came up short should be no consolation for a team that has firmly established itself as a real contender to maybe meet the Ravens again in the Super Bowl. This loss also shouldn't be viewed as any sort of referendum on whether the Niners have what it takes to reach that point. If anything, it should only hammer home the message that these 49ers are to be taken seriously in any such conversation.

At 10-2, San Francisco holds a narrow edge over the Seattle Seahawks atop the NFC West, though Seattle could edge past the Niners by virtue of a tiebreaker from its win earlier in the season. Seattle meets Minnesota on Monday Night Football with a chance to stake its claim. The Niners and Seahawks are slated to meet again in Week 17, a game that could have massive playoff implications.

In the meantime, the 49ers will have time to lick their wounds and bounce back this week in Bradenton, Florida, where they will practice this week before facing the New Orleans Saints next week.

When the 49ers started this three-game stretch against teams with .800 or better winning percentages, Sunday's game against Baltimore looked like the toughest on paper. And the Niners came up short.

The loss doesn't kill San Francisco's chances at a division title or the top seed in the NFC. All of that is still in play. But the stakes for next week's game in New Orleans just went up another notch. A win there and the Niners still control their position in the NFC playoff picture.

Big December games have been few and far between for the Niners in recent years. San Francisco lost one on Sunday, but next week offers another opportunity to quickly wipe it away.

Describe the game in two words: Heavyweight fight. These two teams didn't care about the sloppy field or drenching rain, as they stood in the middle of M&T Bank Stadium and delivered power punches to each other for the full 60 minutes. Before the game, many were calling it a potential Super Bowl preview, and it's fair to say nobody who enjoys high-caliber football would object to a rematch in Miami.

Buy stock in running back Raheem Mostert: With Matt Breida missing another week because of an ankle injury and Tevin Coleman struggling to get traction, the Niners turned to Mostert to handle the load. The Niners are often hesitant to ask too much of Mostert -- their best special teams player -- in the run game, but when they did Sunday, he delivered.

Mostert broke a 40-yard touchdown run in the first half and found space to rip off big gains repeatedly on his way to a career-high 146 yards on 19 carries, an average of 7.7 per attempt. Breida is likely to come back next week against the Saints, but San Francisco has ample reason to continue getting Mostert involved moving forward.