National Football League

Ten Takeaways from Sunday’s 23-13 Loss to San Francisco

1. This was a game where the 49ers imposed their will, and the Rams didn’t really have an answer. The Rams received the opening kickoff and went three-and-out. San Francisco responded with a 12-play, 53-yard field goal drive that took 5:15. After the Rams went three-and-out on their second possession, the 49ers went 47 yards in 10 plays, using up 6:33 to get another Phil Dawson field goal. The Rams had it for five plays on their third possession, using up 1:47, and San Francisco came back with a 12-play, 72-yard, six-minute touchdown drive that ended in a Frank Gore three-yard run. So six possessions into the game, the 49ers had outgained the Rams 155-34, had run 34 plays to the Rams’ 11, eaten up 17:48 of possession time to the Rams’ 5:47, and outscored St. Louis 13-0 while the Rams had punted three times. At that point, with 6:15 left in the first half, it was going to be tough for the Rams to come back.

2. Colin Kaepernick misfired on his first pass to Anquan Boldin, but for the rest of the first half, the former Florida State wide receiver was as unstoppable as his alma mater. On a third-and-10 at San Francisco’s 33 in that first drive, Boldin caught a 12-yard out for a first down. After not catching a pass on the second drive, Boldin went nuts on the third one. On third-and-10 from the Niners’ 28 yard-line, he caught a 21-yarder. On a second-and-4 from the Rams’ 35, he caught a seven-yard pass. Then he caught a seven-yard strike on the subsequent first down, moving the ball from the 35 to the 28. On a third-and-5 from the 33, he caught a four-yard pass, but then Trumaine Johnson was called for a blow to a defenseless receiver to give San Francisco another first down at the 14. Then, on third-and-15 from the 19, he caught a 16-yard first-down pass.  On the 12-play touchdown drive, that totaled up to five catches for 55 yards (plus 15 penalty yards) and resulted in all four of the first downs, with the penalty included. The Rams had no answer for the big, physical receiver.

3. Jeff Fisher noted after the game that the Rams had too many penalties, with 11. Six of those defensive penalties gave the 49ers a first down. An early Christmas present. San Fran had 20 first downs, six of those courtesy of Rams penalties.

4. The Rams did outrush the 49ers, 114-83. That’s a good rushing day against San Francisco, and extended the Rams’ streak of 100-yard rushing games as a team to five.

5. Before the Rams’ final touchdown drive, in which Kellen Clemens went 8 of 9 for 90 yards against San Francisco’s defensive backups, he was 11 of 28 for 128 yards and an interception, a 38.98 passer rating. The Rams simply weren’t able to generate anything through the passing game. Four of the six longest Rams plays came in garbage time in the fourth quarter. Of three Rams plays longer than 20 yards, Jared Cook had two: a 20-yarder early in the second quarter and another 20-yarder with 3:48 left. Particularly troubling was that Chris Givens was targeted a team-high nine times, but only pulled down two catches for 30 yards.

6. When left tackle Jake Long went down with an apparent concussion in the third quarter, I thought Rodger Saffold filled in nicely. For the remaining three minutes of the third quarter and the fourth, the 49ers’ defensive right side didn’t do anything. Granted, it was against backups, but I’d be shocked if Saffold has taken a snap at left tackle since 2012, and so he must be given a gold star.

7. The Rams had four sacks, but even with left tackle Joe Staley out with an injury, the 49ers did a good job on Robert Quinn. He was held without a sack and had three tackles, one for loss. William Hayes was the only Rams defensive end with a sack. Michael Brockers had two, and Kendall Langford had one.

8. After the game, fans had a good question. Why try a fake punt early in the fourth quarter from your own 22 (which resulted in a San Francisco touchdown), and why not kick a field goal on fourth-and-11 from the 49ers’ 18-yard line to make it a two-score game? I believe Fisher wanted to do something to get his team in the end zone. He fell on the sword for the fake punt, but I don’t think making it would have made a difference. And kicking a field goal to make it 23-9 with 6:50 to go would have been inconsequential. If the Rams make it a two-score game, Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio would have simply left their starting defense in, and kept pushing offensively.

9. If they would have kept pushing offensively and kept their defensive starters in, it could have been a lot worse. Harbaugh was thinking about Seattle being at Candlestick Park next Sunday, and didn’t want to risk any injuries heading into that game. When it mattered in games between the 49ers and the Rams this season, when games were still in the balance, when a good run by the Rams would have given them a chance, they were outscored by San Francisco 51-9. In the game here, San Francisco moved ahead 28-3 with 10:25 left. At Candlestick, the Vernon Davis TD to make it 23-6 with 14:31 left effectively ended it. Despite what happened last season, the 49ers are simply bigger and stronger than the Rams up front, even without their two best offensive linemen, Staley and Mike Iupati. Those first six drives of the game, three by each team, tell the story of where these two teams are.

10. Now the Rams become a spoiler. They can knock Arizona pretty much out of the playoffs with a win there next week, and can have a big effect on who represents the NFC in the Super Bowl when they take on New Orleans and Seattle in the last three weeks. That’s what they have to play for at this point. It’ll be interesting to see how much the Rams and Cardinals have changed since Week 1.