The Rams were able to kick a late field goal and then grab a Colin Kaepernick fumble with two seconds left. It was Rams football, 2014 style. And with that, 10 takeaways:
1. I’m sure this was, in Jeff Fisher’s mind, an ideal win.
Play a low-scoring slugfest that’s close until the fourth quarter, and win it with your defense and kicker. Especially with Greg Robinson starting his first game at left tackle, Brian Quick out for the year, and Austin Davis having a little case of the yips, they needed to play a game like they did at Levi’s Stadium.
2. Throughout last week, we pleaded with the Rams to come up with a plan for their running backs. Boy, did they. Zac Stacy was the only Ram who dressed and didn’t play.
Tavon Austin carried on jet sweeps twice. Benny Cunningham had four carries. And … Tre Mason had 19 carries for 65 yards. He has apparently established himself as the man to shoulder the load in the running game.
3. Davis completed 13 passes, with just four of those being for 10 or more yards, and only the Rams touchdown went for more than 20 yards.
The Rams were the antithesis of explosive. But finding a way to win with just 193 yards of offense, while turning the ball over twice and getting two turnovers, is impressive. If you want to win with defense and special teams, and perform exceptionally in those areas, you don’t need to be explosive. And the Rams executed that game plan to perfection.
4. The defense was fantastic. The 49ers had most of their injured players back, and the Rams harassed them mercilessly. Against what I consider to be the best offensive line in the league when healthy, the Rams piled up a season-high eight sacks and allowed Frank Gore 49 yards on 14 carries. Yes, Trumaine Johnson had his troubles in pass coverage in the final drive, but the linebackers made plays, the defensive line played like a group of first-rounders, and the safeties played strong, disciplined football. If the Rams turn in a similar performance next week in Arizona, they have a chance against the red-hot Cardinals.
5. I wish I could tell you what Austin was trying to accomplish at the end of the first half when he nearly got tackled for a safety in the end zone. Perhaps FOX analyst John Lynch was right when he suggested that Austin isn’t the same since suffering his early-season MCL injury. Austin obviously isn’t going to score touchdowns by running sideways all the time. That was nearly a catastrophic mistake. A coach is going to have to point out to Austin that to gain yards, he has to go straight ahead. He should be an explosive player, but he isn’t right now.
6. Greg Zuerlein had a nice bounce-back game after his 38-yard miss last week in Kansas City. His 37- and 39-yarders provided the winning margin. Zuerlein needed a confidence-boosting game, and this one, especially with the game-winner with 5:25 to go, can’t do anything but help his confidence.
7. Here are Johnny Hekker’s punts:
First quarter: from the Rams’ 29, a 60-yarder that was returned to the 49ers’ 23. Result: a 49er punt
Second quarter: from the Rams’ 13, a 46-yarder that wasn’t returned , forcing San Francisco to start at its own 41. Result: a forced fumble that set up the Rams’ touchdown.
Third quarter: from the Rams’ 46, a 54-yarder that forced the 49ers to start at their own 20. Result: a 49er punt. From the Rams’ 32, a 44-yarder that was fair caught at the 49er 24. Result: a punt.
Fourth quarter: from the San Francisco 48, a 37-yarder that was fair caught at the 49er 11-yard line, with a penalty moving them back to the six. Result: a short punt by Andy Lee that led to the winning field goal. And from the Rams’ 48, a 40-yarder to the San Francisco 12. Result: Kaepernick’s fumble that ended the game.
Talk about flipping the field. Hekker kicked six times and netted 41.5 yards, consistently putting San Francisco in poor field position.
8. The Rams asked on Twitter during the second quarter, “What do you think… Is it safe to reclaim our hashtag now? #SackCity” Let’s wait a couple of weeks. The eight sacks were great, but we haven’t quite forgotten one sack through five games.
9. The circumstances of this victory make it more impressive. As noted, the 49ers were the healthiest they had been all season (although inside linebackers Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis were out), and the team was coming off a bye. Meanwhile, the Rams had 13 players on their injury list on Wednesday and only had a walkthrough that day because they didn’t have enough guys to practice. With Jake Long and Quick lost for the season, the Rams had lost two of their most important offensive components. Starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins didn’t dress because of a knee injury. It was the young Rams’ first visit to Levi’s Stadium. And the crowd got into the game when Davis threw two second-quarter interceptions. Everything working against the Rams should make this win all the more special.
10. Take nothing away from the Rams, because it’s hard to win one game. But parity right now is amazing. They’re playing in a crazy league. How else to explain Miami crushing San Diego 37-0 to improve to 5-3? Or Cleveland winning to get into second place in the AFC North, one half-game out of the lead? Or our old friends, the Arizona Cardinals, being 7-1 with the best record in the NFC at the midway point? The Rams are 3-5, and just two games out of a wild-card spot, and just a game behind vaunted San Francisco. It was another crazy day in the crazy NFL.