49ers stressful come-from-behind win vs. Rams embodies chaotic season

Jan 9, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams guard Austin Corbett (63) hangs on to San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) as he runs a complete pass in the overtime period of the game at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams guard Austin Corbett (63) hangs on to San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) as he runs a complete pass in the overtime period of the game at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

24. 51. Final/OT. 27. 42

A 49ers team that was once 3-5 fell behind 17-0 to the Rams in a must-win Week 18 game, coming from behind in chaotic fashion to make the playoffs.

Roughly four minutes left to go in the second quarter of a must-win game against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18, the San Francisco 49ers offense trudged off the field after a bad interception by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, augmented by terrible protection by the offensive line already playing with backup tackles.

The Niners defense, gashed for 17 first-half points and reaching a point in the game where any throw Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford made would be an easy completion, came onto the field with what little strands of momentum they could have grasped dissipating.

That moment felt like an indictment of every decision San Francisco had made this season: cornerbacks struggling against an explosive offense, an offensive line unable to hold the line of scrimmage, and a lame-duck quarterback struggling while the future franchise quarterback, Trey Lance, stood on the sidelines.

49ers first-half woes vs. Rams embodies San Francisco’s early 2021 struggles

Look back at the 49ers’ first eight games of the season.

A win against the Detroit Lions in Week 1 that felt more like a loss with the Lions’ rampant comeback and cornerback Jason Verrett’s season-ending injury. That followed up with a gritty win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 where the Niners offense looked incompetent before four-straight losses, which included a last-second loss to the Green Bay Packers where the offense struggled for a half and the defense struggled for the other, a loss to the Seattle Seahawks that felt more like an implosion, a loss to the Arizona Cardinals where Lance was run into the ground, and a blown opportunity on Sunday Night Football against the Indianapolis Colts.

San Francisco was 2-4 with nothing working on offense or defense and splitting a 1-1 stretch with a Chicago Bears team that played the 49ers far too well, given the talent disparity, and a total shellacking at the hands of the Cardinals backups the following week. The Niners, through eight games, were at 3-5 and sinking fast.

An offense struggling, a defense scuffling, and an organizational philosophy being questioned. That last statement could apply to them earlier this season, as well as how things were going in Week 18 against Los Angeles.

49ers bounce-back vs. Rams is like their bounce-back in 2021 as a whole

Back to Week 18, San Francisco’s defense came up huge with a sack on Stafford, and the offense clawed back with a field goal to give a sliver of hope.

Out of halftime, 49ers football began. A physical run game, imposing their will both offensively and defensively, the stars showed up as the Niners clawed their way back.

Running back Elijah Mitchell, potentially an unsung hero for the 49ers when drafted in Round 6 way back last spring, will certainly have his praises sung now. Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk emerging from “the doghouse” with a renewed explosiveness, and of course fellow wideout Deebo Samuel, the player who best encapsulates the spirit of the Niners at their best.

On defense, linebacker Fred Warner emerging after an early-season slump, EDGE Nick Bosa, whose excellence fueled San Francisco’s pass rush, and Arden Key, an afterthought of a depth signing, turned into a game-changer on the defensive line.

The 49ers came into the half down 17-3, and they entered the fourth quarter in a tie game.

Just as these Niners came back with a vengeance, so did their play this season. An explosive run game paired with a flash of efficiency from Jimmy G fueled three straight wins against the Rams, where they imposed their will in Week 10, the Jacksonville Jaguars to showcase their talent, and the Minnesota Vikings to cement their status as playoff hopefuls.

The Week 18 game teetered on the balance, neither team able to make a play until San Francisco drove down the field, about to score and then this:


A brutal interception for Garoppolo, coupled with a precise dissection of the defense and then a 3-and-out, and the 49ers were down to a 0.4-percent probability to win the game:


It felt like the end of this season with the Niners at 6-5 and riding high.

But an inexcusable loss to the Seahawks dropped their hopes. Then came two wins in a row to rebuild hope, and another inexcusable loss to the Tennessee Titans, putting San Francisco in a position where it was no longer in control of its destiny. Their starting quarterback out with an injured thumb after a horrendous performance.


The season was on the line, and the 49ers delivered. Just as they delivered one of their best defensive performances to support a rookie quarterback who also showcased why the future is bright.

A win and they were in. The game went to overtime, where the Niners clutched out first down after first down before kicking a field goal to be up and potentially in the playoffs.

All that was needed was a defensive stop:

It’s fitting that to end this regular season. Cornerback Ambry Thomas, who went from wasted third-round pick to struggling rookie to competent starter, made the play to seal the game.

In a regular season full of ups and downs, rights and wrongs, wins and losses, the 49ers capped it off in the only way they could, winning barely in overtime 27-24 and barely winning a playoff berth

Now they start again, 0-0, only needing four wins to wash away whatever season they had.

Given the chaos they’ve played with so far, it’ll certainly be worth watching.

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