By Jerrell Richardson
It took right under 10 quarters for the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams to decide who the better team was in 2013. Surprisingly, it was the the Rams who can claim to be the better team this year, after stunning the NFC West leading San Francisco 16-13 on Sunday. In their second meeting, they played their second overtime game, and it was St. Louis connecting on a 54-yard field goal with less then one minute in overtime to steal the dramatic victory. San Francisco must tip their cap to the Rams, but this loss, much like the tie in Week 10, was more about what the 49ers did wrong and not what the Rams did right. Colin Kaepernick made two costly mistakes and the special teams came up short; the result was a disappointing defeat.
It could have been the absence of Kendall Hunter, but for some reason San Francisco was unable to get anything going on the ground. The team finished with 148 yards total rushing, but the majority of that was Kaepernick running for his life. Frank Gore was handed the ball 23 times and managed only 58 yards, while Brandon Jacobs, in his first real action, had four carries for six yards. Outside of Gore’s first quarter touchdown, the backs had no impact on the game, which left it up to the receiving core to save the day. Colin Kaepernick and the passing game were unable to carry the load, and in fact Kaepernick did something that Alex Smith does not; Kaepnernick made a costly mistake (twice).
With San Francisco clinging to a seven-point lead in the third quarter, Kapernick’s lack of experience cost the team two points. He dropped back to pass and in an effort to escape the rush, ran into the end zone before flinging the ball out of bounds. The problem was that he was not out of the pocket, so the intentional grounding penalty resulted in a safety. His error gave life back to the home team and their crowd. As a team, the 49ers were able to weather the storm and were still in position to grind out a victory, but when an errant toss by Kaepernick led to a fumble recovered for a touchdown, just like that the score was tied. His second half mistakes led to 10 of the Rams 16 points — a big reason the team loss. Grade: D+
Although the offensed struggled, the defense played great. The scoreboard said 16 points for St. Louis, but the defense was only on the field for six of those, three through regulation. The defense has often picked up the slack for the offense this season, and it did enough Sunday to win if the offense had played a clean game. Unfortunately, despite their stellar play for most of the game, they were unable to make a final stand at the end of the game to keep St Louis out of field goal range.
St. Louis’ Sam Bradford compiled 221 yards passing, but attempted 39 passes and was sacked twice. Like Gore, Stephen Jackson had no running room and as expected was bottled up, finishing with only 48 yards on the ground. With no Danny Amendola, the Rams turned to wide receiver Chris Givens, who did have a big game on the stat sheet with 101 yards receiving, but for the most part he was contained and did not hurt San Francisco. Aldon Smith and Justin Smith had a sack each. The defense was unable to force any turnovers, though, and that could have been the one play to put the team over the top. Grade: B+
David Akers cost the team a win for the second time this year. Akers missed a kick in overtime against the Rams earlier this year, and Sunday was déjà vu. With 4:11 left in overtime, he lined up a 51-yard attempt that sailed wide right. This is a recurring theme for Akers, who is now 7-for-15 from beyond 40 yards and is proving very unreliable in crunch time. Ted Ginn Jr. did not have his usual impact, failing to help the team in the field position battle with only six total return yards. The only bright spot on special teams was the always reliable Andy Lee, who punted a total of six times with an average right above 50 yards. Grade: C-
Jim Harbaugh had the better team and the early lead, but lost the game. He failed to adjust to what the Rams were doing to have success and he made a bad call late in the game. To prevent Kaepernick from buying time in the pocket, and at the same time give Gore no gaps to run, St. Louis used a five-man rush. They clogged all the available holes and with constant pressure never allowed Kaepernick to set his feet in the pocket. Instead of changing the game plan after an entire game of limited-to-no success, Harbaugh made the decision to run an option toss to Ted Ginn Jr. that led to the only Rams touchdown on the day.
It’s hard to blame Harbaugh for a missed toss, but his decision to run the play makes no sense. The team remained conservative the entire game, but with them leading late and trying to ice the game, they run a gadget play in the shadows of their own end zone . It was a simple option, but Ginn gets very little playing time and does not touch the ball often outside of returns. Logic points to a conventional running play, and worst case scenario would have been to punt the ball and force the Rams to score an offensive touchdown. It appeared as though Harbaugh knew he had the better team and figured eventually talent would prevail. As the coach, he is responsible for putting his players in the right position and on Sunday he failed in one crucial moment. Even before that, he failed to adjust the game plan to keep them out of a nail biter. Grade: D
No Need To Worry
With such a talented team, when San Francisco loses it usually because of something they did, or rather did not do, and Sunday was no exception. They were in position to win the game and if they had executed a simple toss or made a field goal, then they escape with the win. There is really no need to panic, but Kaepernick does have some pressure now, as another loss or bad half may result in Alex Smith getting called back into action.
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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.