“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”
-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Like in Dickens’s famous novel, Sunday’s 24-24 tie between the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers inspired a lot of superlative feelings and descriptions about this Rams team. The Rams looked great, while at the same time looking much like the helpless Rams teams of recent years. They’re much improved, but still have plenty of room for growth. Jekyll, meet Hyde.
It was the best of games. It was the worst of games.
The team jumped out to a 14-0 lead after scoring on their first two offensive possessions, first on a 36-yard strike from QB Sam Bradford to WR Brian Quick and later on a seven-yard run from RB Steven Jackson. One of the league’s best defenses was suddenly being dissected by one of the league’s worst offenses.
Adding injury to insult, 49ers QB Alex Smith left the game in the second quarter due to an apparent concussion and would not return. The reins were handed over to backup QB Colin Kaepernick, a second-year player with just 14 professional passing attempts heading into the game. Heading to the fourth quarter, the Rams had a 17-7 lead and a good shot at pulling off what would have been the team’s most important win in years.
Instead, the Rams allowed the young Kaepernick to lead the 49ers to three scores in the game’s last 8:40 of regulation. That included two touchdowns in the span of 17 seconds – with help from a fumbled kickoff by Rams RB Isaiah Pead – and a field goal drive that started with 1:09 remaining in the game.
The defense had been the difference in the Rams’ early wins. It was unable make a difference in the fourth quarter Sunday.
But where the 49ers did their part to beat the Rams in regulation, the Rams did more than enough to beat themselves in overtime. On the first play in overtime, Bradford found WR Danny Amendola down the right sideline for what looked like an 80-yard pass to inside the 49ers 10-yard line. As it turned out, a flag for illegal formation – WR Brandon Gibson lined up incorrectly – negated the gain. The Rams ended up punting.
After San Francisco drove into field goal range only for K David Akers to miss a 41-yard field goal, the Rams put together a drive of their own, eventually stalling on the 49ers 35-yard line. K Greg Zuerlein lined up and nailed a 53-yard field goal, but another flag – this time for delay of game – pushed the Rams back five yards. Zuerlein missed the 58-yard attempt. It was the last serious opportunity either team had to score.
Trick plays, including two fake punts by P Johnny Hekker, helped keep the Rams afloat. A failure to execute the everyday plays helped sink them.
The mistakes overshadowed what was otherwise a largely successful game for the Rams. The Rams outgained the 49ers 458 to 341 and dominated most of the team stats. Bradford went 26-for-39 for 275 yards and two touchdowns, and Jackson had his first 100-yard rushing game since Dec. 24, 2011, gaining 101 yards on 29 carries. Amendola, returning from a clavicle injury that had sidelined him since Oct. 4, had 11 catches for 102 yards and re-established how important his presence is to the offense. The defense had five sacks.
But the sum of the parts wasn’t able to propel the Rams to a key victory. They settled instead for a moral victory and an actual tie, the first in the NFL since Nov. 16, 2008.
Valuable opportunity lost. But hopefully for this young, improving Rams team, it was a valuable experience gained.