Four forced turnovers propelled the 49ers to a 23-20 victory over the Rams Sunday night in Los Angeles, as team officials scrambled to find new facilities amidst emerging coronavirus restrictions from Santa Clara County.
The 49ers were ecstatic to have some familiar faces back from injury on both sides of the ball Sunday in Los Angeles, but neither the Rams nor the Niners could seem to keep hold of the rock in what unraveled into a sloppy game early on.
After trading takeaways early in the first quarter, the Rams scored a field goal following a 49ers defensive stop on 3rd down, something that would recur for much of the day.
The next 49ers drive featured a handful of players activated for this week’s game. WR Deebo Samuel caught a pitch and took it 33 yards into Rams territory, before another 26-yard catch by Samuel set up an 8-yard TD run for RB Raheem Mostert to put the Niners up 7-3. The TV broadcast was able to catch audio of Niners teammates congratulating Mostert in the endzone and enthusiastically welcoming him back.
CB Richard Sherman was received warmly by his squad after jamming up the next Rams possession with an interception in his first game back since the opening week of the season.
However, RB Jeff Wilson Jr. would fumble it right back to the Rams on the 49ers’ very next play from scrimmage.
Despite the numerous turnovers from the 49ers, their defense kept them in the game, establishing a bend-don’t-break mentality against a tough opponent in Rams QB Jared Goff, who himself was coming off a hot win and strong performance last week against Tom Brady and Tampa Bay.
When asked about the defense in his post game press conference, 49ers head coach Mike Shanahan was very impressed, saying “They were amazing all game. They were amazing last time we played [the Rams]. It was the exact type of game that we were hoping for, from a game-plan standpoint ... we wanted to make it a kinda grimy type game. I can’t say enough about those guys and the staff.”
The 49ers defense came up with some huge stops on third down and forced four total turnovers on the day. CB Jimmie Ward punched the ball out for two fumbles himself, the second of which was recovered by DL Kerry Hyder right before the end of the first half. Hyder also recorded four total tackles including two sacks to bring his season sack tally to 7.5.
The second half continued right where the first left off, with Javon Kinlaw intercepting a tipped pass from Goff and taking it 27 yards to the house for a pick six. Kinlaw, who marked the 1st interception of his career, has been one of the few players fans can feel good about this season, as the rookie continues to improve week in and week out.
Both teams would trade field goals near the end of the third, and with just over two minutes left in the third quarter, the 49ers had the ball back up 17-6, looking poised to beat the Rams for the second time this season.
Rams DT Aaron Donald, however, was a problem all day, and forced a fumble on the next 49ers play. The fumble was recovered by the Rams and returned for a touchdown. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year was not done. On the next 49ers possession, Donald sacked Mullens, forcing the 49ers to punt. On the following down, Rams RB Cam Akers took the ball 61 yards, setting up another TD for Los Angeles just as the fourth quarter got underway.
The 49ers, who just moments before had seemed positioned to run away with it, now found themselves down 17-20. Mullens, who had been quiet for most of the day, came alive, and was very accurate down the stretch, making mid- and long-range completions through traffic to extend drives and keep his team alive late in the fourth.
“I was real impressed with Nick today,” Shanahan told reporters. “He never went into his shell and just held onto the ball, he kept letting it rip and made enough plays for us to win the game.”
A 20-yard completion to RB Kyle Jusczcyk set up a 44-yard field goal for K Robbie Gould to tie, giving the ball back to Goff and the Rams with just over three minutes left in the game. But the defense would hunker down again, with CB Emmanuel Moseley getting great coverage on WR Cooper Kupp on third-and-five for the Rams at midfield, ultimately forcing LA to give Mullens the ball back with just over two minutes left and a chance to go down the field and win the game for San Francisco.
With 35 seconds to go, on a fourth-and-one just outside of field-goal range, Jusczcyk took an inside handoff and powered across the first down line to extend the drive, and Gould would come in to kick the ‘walk-off’ field goal to sweep the season series against the Rams as the game clock expired.
“It just shows the grit and the determination of this team,” Mullens told the media after the game. “Was it perfect? Heck no, it wasn’t perfect at all, but the defense played incredible and the offense, I guess you could say we delivered when we had to.”
Throughout his 15 years in the NFL, Gould has made 16 game-winning field goals in the regular season, this being his sixth with the 49ers.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of those guys,” Shanahan said postgame. “How they went out there and fought, not all of it was perfect, but their heart and energy and everything was and I couldn’t ask for any more from those guys.”
Most of the questions in the postgame Zoom conference, however, were less focused around the game that had just been played and more concentrated on an announcement made almost 24 hours prior to the game prohibiting the 49ers from using their facilities at Levi's Stadium to practice or host games for the next three weeks.
The new coronavirus guidelines, set in place by Santa Clara County amid growing case numbers in the area and decreased availability of hospital beds, also include a 14-day quarantine for anyone who travels back to the county after going 150 miles or more.
Shanahan explained that the 49ers organization is moving as quickly as they can to secure alternative sites. “We’re working our tails off to try to figure it out. I know other people are, I’ve been doing this for the last 24 hours. You guys want to know the answer, so do our wives, so does everyone who knows us.”
As SFist reported Sunday, the 49ers are potentially looking to play in Arizona for as long as they have to.
“I mean the biggest thing for me as us all is leaving our families,” Shanahan said. “We’re all humans just like everyone else and it’s a big deal to leave your family for the whole month of December, a huge deal as everyone knows. This virus is a huge deal.”
The 49ers next game is still scheduled to be M0nday 12/7 at home against the Bills, but this remains to be seen. The team will have an extra day on this long week to sort things out.
Top photo: Harry How/Getty Images