The San Francisco 49ers face one more hurdle in their quest for the second overall seed in the NFC. This hurdle happens to have won 2 games this season and lost 13. However, with the 49ers these things are never easy. This season the Niners have had a knack for playing almost to the exact level of their competition.. When they are playing the Steelers, that’s great. When they are playing the Cardinals, not so much. That’s why this Sunday’s affair with the “lowly” Rams could be more interesting than most people expect.
The 49ers narrow victory over Seattle last week was huge for a thousand reasons, one of the most important being that the only remaining game on the schedule happens to be in St. Louis. St. Louis is tied for the worst record in the league, is without their franchise Quarterback and is being led by what very well could be a lame duck coach. The Rams will have extra motivation to mail this game in as this is the final installment of the suck for (Andrew) Luck campaign, their final opportunity to out-suck the Colts. They are starting a QB who has attempted 93 passes in the last 4 years. By far and away their best defensive player, Chris Long, is listed as questionable. The 49ers had 8 players (more than the entire NFC East) and 10 alternates named to the pro bowl. The Rams didn’t have anyone named to the pro bowl team. Thee Rams have been outscored by 207 points this year, the worst point differential in the entire league by a pretty good margin. You could make a strong case for them being the worst team in the NFL for the second time in three years.
All this would lead you to believe that the 49ers should coast, right? Well, it’s not always that easy. The Niners are coming off a game in Seattle which was closer than it should have been. They made an array of perfect halftime adjustments, holding the Seahawks to 72 yards in the 2nd half and completely out muscling them, via the field goal of course, on offense. The only big play Seattle could muster after halftime was the blocked punt, thus forcing the Niners to answer with the game winning FG. The consensus among the national media seems to be that once the Niners get behind in a game then they are basically done. In fact they have a few examples of coming from behind this year. They were down 10-0 versus an undefeated Detroit team on the road after the first quarter. The “Dream Team” Eagles were up 23-3 in Philly 5 minutes into the 3rd quarter. Then Saturday after falling behind on the huge momentum swinging punt block/TD run, the Niners engineered the game winning FG drive. One of what has to be the plays of the year on the drive was the QB Alex Smith 41 yard pass to WR Michael Crabtree. The Niners had just taken an offensive pass interference penalty on ex NFL WR Braylon Edwards. They faced a 2nd and 18 at their own 31 with roughly 6 minutes to play down by 2 points. At this point the Seattle crowd is at a deafining roar. Things are looking mighty bleak. Smith throws a ball deep down the left sideline that Crabtree goes up and snags out of the air between 2 defenders, falling in bounds in the process. Crabtree gives a slight pushoff to the corner and makes sure he’s the only one who is going to get to the ball. It was the kind of play a number 1 WR in the NFL makes. When the Niners have gotten behind this year and times have gotten difficult, the team has made the plays necessary to win games.
In most of the other games the Niners have played in this year they have allowed their opponent to hang around. Against St Louis in the first game this year at Candlestick they only managed 3 field goals in the first half and led 9-0. At home again versus Arizona they led again only 9-0 after 30 minutes. In the 4th quarter vs Cleveland at the Stick the lead by only a touchdown. In DC they squeaked out an 8 point victory over Washington despite dominating the entire game. I’m sure the Niners would love to jump out to a big lead and rest all of their starters this Sunday. I’m sure that if the Saints had to see a Niner victory they would love to walk into there locker room at half time and see the Niners up 35-0, there by encouraging them to rest their own starters. But based on the previous 16 games, the Rams might be able to at least hang around against the Niners on New Year’s Day.