At the end of the San Francisco 49ers 13-16 defeat in overtime to the St. Louis Rams, the Niners were stunned they had let this one get away from them. In a game that had all the markings of an instant classic between the two rivals the contest again ended in overtime, but this time with a clear winner. The Rams were able to score ten points in the final three minutes to force the game into the extra quarter. With the game 26 seconds away from ending for the second straight time in a tie between the teams, Rams rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein kicked a 54-yard game winning field goal.
There are many reasons for the 49ers loss to the Rams and they all involved each aspect of the game. On offense, the Niners could not hold onto a lead and made costly mistakes. The defense did its job must of the game, but it could not keep the Rams offense on their side of the field late in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Rams made the Niners D pay the price with two field goals over 50-yards that forced overtime and later won the game for St. Louis. On special teams, kicker David Akers put San Francisco up 13-10 late in the fourth quarter, only to miss a game winning 51-yard field goal in overtime. Then there is Jim Harbaugh calling for a read-option play on third down, late in the fourth quarter and deep in Rams territory.
The faithful call led to a fumble, the Rams only touchdown of the game and the Niners third loss of the season could be the difference in playoff seeding and home field advantage. Until then, the 49ers will lick their wounds and limp back to San Francisco to square off against the Dolphins on Sunday.
Game Gold Nugget Awards
= VERY GOOD
After Colin Kaepernick marched the Niners down the field on an 11-play, 60-yard touchdown drive on their second possession of the game, the offense would only score six points the rest of the game. The next six offensive drives for the Niners gained 35 yards and only four first downs. Frank Gore ran in the touchdown on the drive and gained 34 yards on his first three runs. However, he finished the game with only 24 yards on his final 20 carries.
Kaepernick was equally handicapped by the Rams defense with three sacks and two pass completions of 20 or more yards. One of his costly mistakes was a third-quarter safety that put the Rams on the board for the first time of the game. Late in the fourth, with the Niners up 10-2, Kaepernick fumbled on 3rd-and-3 read option play at San Francisco’s 17. The fumble was picked up by Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins and ran into the end zone for a touchdown.
Regardless of whether or not the play should have been called with the Niners so deep in their own territory, Kaepernick should have executed the pitch to Ted Ginn Jr. It would have been even better had Kaepernick simply held onto the football and ran it for little or no gain. Instead, he tried to make a play to convert on third down and this might have been where his inexperience was a problem. A more experienced QB would have recognized the Rams blitz and held onto the football. The Niners defense was playing really well up until that point, so they likely would have held onto the lead. Kaepernick did, however, answer back with a 50-yard run that set up a go-ahead 33-yard field goal. But in overtime, the Niners offense did not score.
You have to give credit to the Rams defense as they caused the Niners offense off balanced by disrupting the timing of their plays. On most plays it looked as if they knew what was coming based on the schemes and formations the Niners were running.
The Niners D held the Rams to just 293 total yards and three points in regulation. The Rams offense had to punt on their first five drives and running back Stephen Jackson was held to an average of 2.3 yards on 21 rushing attempts. Despite the solid play by San Francisco’s defense, they allowed QB Sam Bradford and his offense to answer back after the Niners went up 13-10 late in the fourth quarter. On the drive, Bradford had runs of 14 and 11 yards that help set up a 53-yard field goal by Zuerlein, sending the game into overtime.
In the first half, the defense limited St. Louis to just 85 yards and four first downs. However, in the second half the D looked tired and did not have the same punch as the previous half. After recording 13.5 sacks over the past three games, the defense were only able to bring Bradford down two times in the loss.
The positive: Andy lee landed six punts inside the 20-yard line and had a net average of 45.0. The negative: Despite making a 33-yard field giving the Niners the lead with a 1:34 left in regulation, he missed his second overtime field goal against the Rams that could have won the game. Akers missed a 51-yard field goal with the kick drifting right with 4:16 left in overtime. Akers missed a 41-yard field goal in the 24-24 tie against the Rams.
Akers was Mr. Automatic last season, but this year he has missed 3 of his past 7 field goals from 40 to 49 yards and missed 1 of 5 field goals of 50 or more yards. He has been dealing with a pelvis injury which might explain his lack of coming up clutch twice against the Rams. Still, if he is too hurt to be effective the Niners need to bring in another kicker.
Akers on the missed field goal,
It’s a game of inches, and I probably missed it by 3 or 4 inches to the right. Just feel horrible for letting my teammates, organization and fans down. I thought I hit it great.
Calling a read option pitch was not a wise decision by Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, especially being at their own 17-yard line. Harbaugh was outcoached by Jeff Fisher as the Rams defense seemed to know what was coming on plays which threw the offense out of rhythm. Fisher and the Rams figured out how to stop San Francisco’s various formations, schemes and shifts. With two games left against division opponents they have previously played, a readjustment on offense might be needed. Even worse, the Niners committed 11 penalties for 97 yards.