Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images
If you are a fan of aesthetics, do not watch the 49ers play the Rams. All you’ll find is disappointment, pain, and hopefully something you’ve stashed away to take the edge off. These two teams play ugly, defense-oriented football which is, if nothing else, an improvement on a pitcher’s duel.
But hey, sometimes, when you’re a 4-6 team with a backup quarterback, that’s how you get a win. That’s what the 49ers did against Los Angeles, in spite themselves, in a 23-20, walk-off win.
For nearly three quarters, San Francisco was in control. An early touchdown from Raheem Mostert set the 49ers up to follow their only viable game plan, which is to run the ball early and often and lean, or rather, lie, on their defense to carry them.
Jared Goff was as helpless and perhaps scared as he often looks against the 49ers. He finished 19-of-31 with 198 yards and two interceptions.
Jimmie Ward was an omnipresent figure, eating up space and shutting down Robert Woods, excelling as the so-called eraser who limits big plays and cuts down slow-developing ones.
Both Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw limited whatever the Rams had planned in short yardage situations, or for Goff to find easy checkdowns.
And the defensive line played perhaps as well as it has all season. Kevin Givens consistently split double teams, Arik Armstead was usually there to set the edge and Kerry Hyder remained menacing, picking up a pair of sacks to reach a 49ers team-high 7.5 on the season.
Oh, and Javon Kinlaw had a pick-six on Goff.
JAVON KINLAW PICK 6 ‼️ pic.twitter.com/2hMt1UCPVI
— KNBR (@KNBR) November 29, 2020
And then, as if he was unaware of the score and decided to check it for the first time late in the third quarter, Aaron Donald, with the Rams trailing 17-6, swam past Colton McKivitz and Mike McGlinchey. He got to Raheem Mostert before Mostert likely ever imagined, forcing a fumble which Troy Hill picked up for a walk-in fumble recovery touchdown.
Donald kept up the pace, just bullying McGlinchey and co.
— Jake Hutchinson (@hutchdiesel) November 29, 2020
And then the Rams also seemed to remember they had Cam Akers, their rookie second-round draft pick who’s been used sparingly this season. After Tarvarius Moore made an earlier, passive error in the open field in trying to take down Cooper Kupp, which set up a field goal, Moore erred again.
Akers shook Moore in the open field, breaking off a 61-yard run followed two plays later by a lead-taking touchdown at 20-17. San Francisco recovered with a respectable drive, at least by Nick Mullens’ standards, in order to tie the game at 20-20.
San Francisco’s defense held pat yet again, leaving Mullens and the offense with 2:21 and three timeouts at their own 25 to score a field goal.
To be clear, the defense forced four turnovers and seven punts, allowing just three of the Rams’ 15 drives to result in points scored: one field goal early, one field goal in the late third quarter, and one touchdown on explosive Akers’ carry.
So, all Mullens (24-of-35 with an interception) had to do, in order to excuse his woeful performance, which featured one interception, a few egregious overthrows, and at least one other throw which should have been intercepted, was get the 49ers in field goal range.
That range, ideally, is inside the 50, given that Robbie Gould missed a 50-yarder earlier in the game. Gould, by the way, has a 2021 option that needs to be declined or picked up by December 31, before the final game of the season against Seattle
And that’s what Mullens… well, Deebo Samuel did. Samuel separated with ease on a slant and exploded for a 24-yard gain down to the Rams’ 48-yard line. It was pretty much all Samuel all day, as he returned to the field to provide 11 receptions for 134 yards. Along with Mostert, who had a touchdown run (and fumble for a defensive touchdown), and Richard Sherman, who had an early interception (and Jeff Wilson Jr., who fumbled and turned the ball over once), all of the returnees had a meaningful impact.
— KNBR (@KNBR) November 30, 2020
After four plays, San Francisco finally inched for a first down to the 37-yard line thanks to a Kyle Juszczyk fourth-down dive. Following an incompletion to Kendrick Bourne, Samuel came through once again on a quick slant to get the 49ers in field goal range. Raheem Mostert moved them four yards closer before they lined it up.
It was Robbie Gould from 47 yards… Err, rather, 42 yards after Jalen Ramsey inexplicably jumped offsides the play prior. Gould nailed it, and the 49ers move to 5-6, and 4-0 against the Rams over the last two years. They’re not out just yet.