The 49ers saw the NFC West-leading Rams take a 17-0 lead before a Robbie Gould field goal allowed them to avoid a first-half skunk in today’s high-stakes, regular-season finale.
Trailing 17-3 at halftime isn’t the only bad news.
Look, if the 49ers lose, they can still make it to the NFC playoffs, but that would require the defeat of the New Orleans Saints in Atlanta, where the Saints take the lead at halftime.
Jimmy Garoppolo started despite a sprained thumb, and Trent Williams (elbow) was not left in uniform.
Garoppolo started 7 of 5 for 29 yards with an interception, and all looked bleak. But a late scoring drive earned the least points, with Ayuk completing for 19 and 26 yards, serving as a bookend before Gould’s 42-yard field goal ended the half. . Kyle Juszcic held for the gold in place of injured punter Mitch Wishnowski (a possible blow on coverage of the 31-yard punt return).
Garoppolo is 9-in-12 for 90 yards. He has taken every snap so far. It will be interesting to see if Trey Lance stays in the bullpen at the start of the second half. The Lance won the home final against Houston last Sunday.
The NFL’s most productive tandem was unstoppable in the first half. Stafford completed 15-in-16 passes for 153 yards, and his two touchdowns went to Tyler Higby’s end. But the Rams’ Cooper Kupp had 84 yards to catch all five goals, often against Deontay Johnson, who started the nickel back in place of Kevon Williams.
Once Higby took his second touchdown catch to top up the Rams to 17, the disparity in yardage was astonishing: the Rams had 136 yards, 49 had minus-3 yards.
Fourth and facing -1 from the 2-yard line, the 49ers defense piled into the line of the melee, Stafford scored a handoff, and safety Jimmy Ward headed into action. This allowed tight end Higby to slip free into the end zone for a touchdown catch and a 10-0 lead.
Ward, the longest-serving 49er, was among five defensive backs who were unable to practice at the COVID reserve last week.
In the previous game, Kupp had completed a third-down, 7-yard run against Johnson.
The 49ers’ bright spot has been their run defense, limiting Sonny Mitchell and Cam Acres to a combined 14 yards. Mitchell has 12 carries for 11 yards, including a 7-yard run out from a 2-minute warning.
Offensively, the 49ers would have to rely on their passing game to make up the deficit, and they would otherwise sprinkle in runs, such as the 13-yarder Elijah Mitchell had to go into midfield. On his first drive, Mitchell had 1 more minus-1 yard runs, and the conspicuous dash on Samuel’s left boundary stopped for a 2-yard loss.
Special teams trouble
The 49ers continued a season-long theme with mistakes on special teams, from a blocking penalty on kickoff return to a 31-yard punt return pinned on their 8, which set up the Rams’ third scoring drive.
RAMS: The 49ers’ defense achieved third-down conversions on the Rams’ first three attempts – starting with welcomes from Odell Beckham Jr. (13 yards) and Kupp (46 yards) – before Stafford was dismissed by Arden and Eric Armstead First, with Nick Bosa too close, to force an opening-drive field goal. (Bosa and Armstead worked jointly on the third-down sack to close out the Rams’ final series before halftime.)
49ERS: In November’s 31-10 win, the 49ers’ opening possession lasted 11 minutes, and it covered 93 yards in 18 plays. this one? not that good.
It started at the 8-yard line, thanks to an illegal block on a weak return from Jamichael Hesty, and eventually moved 49 yards to 20 yards before punting. The drive officially came to a halt after Garoppolo’s third-down, back-shoulder pass to Hesty was broken once by a Rams defender.
Colton McKiewitz’s first snap of the season is coming off a left tackle early in his career, where Williams (elbow) was not fit today.
Defensively, the 49ers deployed Johnson to nickel backs in place of K’Waun Williams, who was dropped from the COVID reserve list on Saturday but is inactive today. Emmanuel Mosley returned after a month’s absence to start with Embry Thomas, who is in for the benched but active Josh Norman.
Back in the lineup is linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who has played only 50 snaps in the entire season (two games) due to a groin injury in a 1-week pick-six. Greenlaw inflicted an unnecessary roughness penalty with a helmet-to-helmet hit on the 49ers’ 22-yard line.