In the days leading up to Sunday’s matchup against the San Francisco 49ers at the Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis Rams players and coaches likened the game to a continuation of the teams’ Nov. 11 meeting that, after five full quarters of football, ended in a 24-24 tie.
Little did they know it would take nearly five more quarters to finally decide a winner.
After the teams needed an extra period for a second straight meeting, Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein finally dealt the definitive blow in the season matchup, nailing a 54-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Rams a 16-13 victory.
“Wow,” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said after the game. “That’s the case of guys just hanging in there. Guys making plays. Guys in the three different phases just making the plays that we needed to make. It was just two good teams out there today evenly matched trying to find a way win it and we got it.”
Playing just three weeks after the hard-fought tie in San Francisco, the teams picked up where they left off. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick played well in his third start, going 21-for-32 for 208 yards, but the 49ers offense was able to muster just one touchdown and only 10 points in the game’s first 58-plus minutes.
The Rams, on the other hand, struggled to do much of anything offensively. Quarterback Sam Bradford was slightly better than his counterpart, going 26-for-39 for 221 yards, but failed to find the end zone as well. The vaunted 49ers defense, which was allowing just over 14 points per game before Sunday, ably kept the Rams offense off the scoreboard after they struggled to contain the Rams in the teams’ last meeting.
As was the case in the Rams’ early wins, it was the Rams defense that kept the team in the game. With the 49ers deep in their own territory, linebacker James Laurinaitis pressured Kaepernick in his own end zone, forcing the second-year quarterback to unload the ball to the near sideline to avoid the sack. The ball fell short of the line of scrimmage and the play was ruled a safety, giving the Rams their first points.
“Our defense was stellar,” running back Steven Jackson, who had 117 total yards on the day, said. “They did a great job of keeping us in there by creating turnovers and getting the safety. Closing it out at the end in that overtime. Both teams had possessions, had chances to win the game and put it away, but our defense and our special teams, they rose to the occasion when time was needed.”
The big blow came with less than four minutes to play. Up 10-2 and looking to convert a third-and-three situation, the 49ers ran a college-style option play from their own 17-yard line. Pressure forced Kaepernick to pitch the ball, and the pitch eluded 49ers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who has shown a nose for the end zone in recent weeks, jumped on the ball and dove into the end zone for a touchdown. The ensuing two-point conversion pass to Lance Kendricks evened the score at 10-10 with 3:11 left to play.
After the teams traded field goals to get to overtime, the two offenses again struggled to create any opportunities in the extra period. It looked as though the 49ers would pull it out late, but kicker David Akers missed a 51-yard attempt with 4:16 left. The Rams turned around and got in position to attempt a field goal of their own.
Zuerlein had missed a 58-yard attempt in overtime when the teams met three weeks ago. He didn’t miss his opportunity to end the game this time around, saying he felt “relieved” when the kick went through.
In a slugfest that effectively spanned three weeks and nearly 150 minutes of football, the Rams were the last team standing Sunday.
“It’s over, we finally won,” Bradford said of how he felt when the kick was good. “It took 10 quarters, but we finally came out on top.”