By Jerrell Richardson
The game between the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams was viewed as David vs. Goliath. The division-leading 49ers had an advantage in all areas of the game and figured to have no problem defeating the Rams, who entered the game with three consecutive losses. But this game went far from planned as St. Louis raced out to the early lead and knocked out San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith in the first half with a concussion. The 49ers fought back and after 60 minutes the two teams were knotted at 24 all. The defenses took over in overtime and after another 15 minutes, the two teams called it a draw.
Alex Smith in limited action had great numbers, but did little to wow the home crowd or erase the criticism that he is no more then a game manager. He finished his day 7-of-8 for 72 yards and led the team to its only first half touchdown, but he should have been able to put up more than seven points in a half against the St. Louis defense. Regardless of his impact in the first half, it’s clear how important he is to the success of San Francisco as they really don’t have a plan B. Without Smith at the helm, the offense was stuck in neutral as soon as he left the game, and with a healthy Smith leading the charge this game would not have come down to the wire and most certainly would not have ended in a tie.
In the absence of Smith, the team turned to Colin Kaepernick. In his first serious game action, the backup quarterback played well at times, but showed that he is not ready to take over full time. Not to be missed in the disappointment of the tie, though, is that he got the job done. He came into the game with the momentum squarely in the corner of the Rams and his team trailing by 10. He played smart, didn’t turn the ball over and used his legs as much as his arm to do enough to put his team in a position to win the game. He finished with 117 yards passing and 66 yards rushing. For a back up thrown in the fire in the middle of the game, he played as well as could be expected. Grade: B
The offense did not run up and down the field, but a lot of that had to do with the loss of Smith. No team in the NFL is really prepared to be as efficient if their starter goes down, so with the backup running the show, the 49ers understandably had struggles. Even in the midst of the chaos, Frank Gore continued to be the team’s savior. He just missed another 100-yard game and was the sole consistent weapon that the team had all day. Not on the stat sheet is Gore picking up a bobbled snap and running for a first down on a play that could have easily been a turnover. As with Kaepernick, Gore did his part for his team to win.
It’s hard to grade the receivers, as any impact that they would have walked off the field with Smith. Michael Crabtree was able to grab five balls for 70 yards, Vernon Davis got involved with three catches, but the game plan from the second quarter on was to keep it simple for Colin Kaepernick and not risk him taking too many chances down the field. When considering that they had to adjust to a new quarterback mid-game, the 49ers receivers did all they could.
The defense stated shaky, but played with the pressure of the game on their shoulders. The defense knew that with Smith out, the offense was not going to be able to provide much help, and the defense responded. After the first two possessions in which they allowed 14 points, they buckled down and allowed a total of 10 points the rest of the game, and did all of this despite no real sustained drives by the 49ers on offense to help give the defense a breather. With the Rams in possession of the ball with one final drive left, San Francisco shut them down and preserved the tie.
The San Francisco defense could not stop the Rams’ major weapons as Sam Bradford and Danny Amendola both had big games and Stephen Jackson became the latest back to break the 100-yard mark on the ground against a run defense that appeared to be impenetrable last year. Despite the success of the Rams on the stat sheet, though, it was still not enough for St. Louis to win the game outright. Grade: B
The San Francisco special teams let the rest of the team down. David Akers missed a chip shot field goal in overtime that would have won the game, but the story of the day was St. Louis’ punt team. They completed two 4th down passes out of punt formations, and that had as much to do with the final outcome as any other stat or play. The first time the Rams pulled it off, it kept the 49ers from getting the ball back at the end of the first half. The second kept a drive alive that eventually led to a Rams touchdown. Ted Ginn Jr. did nothing to help swing the field position battle and team almost allowed a touchdown return in the punt game. On this day, San Francisco needed help from all phases and got no support from their special teams. Grade: F
A Tie? Really?
They didn’t lose, but San Francisco can’t be happy with this outcome. On a day in which it was crucial for them to win, they earned a tie. They need a complete team effort, and for a team that prides itself in being sound across the board, the special teams dropped the ball. The outcome of this game does not completely wipe clean the hard work from the first half of the season, but they now find themselves back in a tight race for the NFC West. It does make an interesting story line for the next game, as both teams will be looking to make a more definitive statement against their division rival when they meet again in Week 13.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.