Was the second meeting of the season between the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams yesterday actually more of a blowout than the final score suggests? Are the Niners a slightly unpredictable team who lose games that they 'should' win, and win games that they 'should' lose? Does anyone out there have any idea how this 49ers team, who are now .500 and who looked fantastic yesterday, might fare going into the mid- and late season?
Sure, the Rams led 14-10 at half time on their home field, though the gleaming-new SoFi Stadium in Inglewood — which had way more red and gold dotting the stands rather than blue and yellow — hardly felt like any kind of "advantage" for LA. The crowd was loud and annoying on Rams' 3rd downs, and as it turned out, LA was done scoring points by halftime, while the Niners were just getting started.
Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco's newest offensive weapon, scored the hat trick on Sunday: he rushed, caught, and passed for a touchdown, which is kind of a rare and exclusive feat. The Niners went on to score three touchdowns in the second half to beat LA, again, 31-14, and to kind of own the Rams, again, defensively.
Sure, the Rams had a great start, stopping the 49ers' opening drive mid-field, then putting together their own, slow, meticulous, end-to-end march culminating in a Matthew Stafford touchdown run on a 3rd and goal, making it 7-o at the end of the first quarter. San Francisco responded with a second-quarter drive, with George Kittle and McCaffrey going to work.
With a 20-yard catch-and-run courtesy of Kittle into Rams' territory, my favorite play of the game was cued up: On a 2nd and 8 on the Rams' 40, Jimmy Garoppolo slung a short, lateral pass to McCaffrey, who immediately wound up for a pass of his own. CMC threw a rainbow right into the wide-open hands of Brandon Aiyuk, who trotted, untouched, into the end zone to tie the game 7-7.
Here's a recap of CMC's offensive magic yesterday:
Sure, on their next possession, the Rams had another long, clock-consuming drive down field, navigating the Niners' defense with relative ease for an eventual Cooper Kupp touchdown reception to retake the lead 14-7. This was clearly not going to be a replay of the Rams' Week 4 loss to an absolutely stifling 49ers' defense.
Not yet, anyway.
The Niners responded with a solid drive, but they were stopped short of the endzone and had to settle for a field goal, bringing us to that 14-10 halftime score.
After exchanging scoreless possessions to open the third quarter, the 49ers constructed their own meticulous drive, highlighted by a few big Jeff Wilson first downs — one on an 11-ish-yard reception, one on a 10-yard run — as well as a few Brandon Aiyuk receptions for his 81-total yards on the day. But it would be Jimmy G and CMC who would put the cherry on top of that particular drive with the game still teetering with a Ram four-point lead.
On a on a 3rd and 2, Jimmy G shuffled in the pocket, looking for receivers. Pressure was coming, and Garoppolo was just milliseconds from being wrapped up by the Rams' D when he hucked the ball to the edge of the end zone, where Christian McCaffrey leapt for the catch. Score: 17-14 49ers.
The Rams had the ball for less than two minutes near the end of the third quarter before the Niners marched inevitably back into the end zone. It was an explosive, 25-yard CMC run that took the ball to one-yard line to set up his own rushing score on the next play, completing his triple-crown trifecta three-fer of touchdowns. Score 24-14 Niners, and the game was now teetering solidly toward San Francisco.
The Rams only had the ball for about two minutes, again, and were well shy of mid-field on their next possession, with LA tight end Tyler Higbee dropping an easy pass that would have taken the Rams well into 49ers' territory.
The already faint sound of the LA fans in LA was drowned out by their northern rivals.
Cue a 25-yard Jimmy G pass to Ross Dwelley (who?), then an awesome Garoppolo roll-out touchdown pass to George Kittle, and the game was throughly in the Niners' hands. Score: 31-14. Time left in the fourth quarter: 6:41. The Rams' offense: Ineffectual.
The 49ers are now 4-4, with the Rams falling to 3-4 in the NFC West. (The now Russell Wilson-less Seattle Seahawks are defying all expectations and lead the division at 5-3.) Is this 49ers team destined for something greater than relative mediocrity and heartbreaking playoff losses? Can Jimmy G be the guy at the helm orchestrating San Francisco's offensive weapons?
The 49ers have a bye next week, and will face that other LA team — the Chargers — on Sunday, November 13 at Levi's Stadium.
Top Image: Photo by Harry How/Getty Images