By Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –
ST. LOUIS — It took nearly 10 quarters to break the tie — but the tie has been broken between the Rams and the San Francisco 49ers. Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein’s 54-yard field goal in overtime gave the Rams a 16-13 victory over the 49ers on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
The NFC West-leading Niners fell to 8-3-1. The Rams improved to 5-6-1 with their second victory in a row. Just three weeks ago the teams played in a wild, intense 24-24 overtime tie in Candlestick Park.
This one was nearly as wild, just as intense and came to an end on Zuerlein’s kick with just 26 seconds left in OT.
One thing was clear from the outset Sunday: the 49ers’ defense showed up, and showed up to play. There was next-to-no running room for Steven Jackson against the bruising San Francisco front, and with Danny Amendola not suiting up, the Rams’ wide receivers could get little separation on patterns.
At the 2-minute warning of the first half, the Rams were averaging a mere two yards per play, with 38 yards on 19 plays.
The 49ers got on the board on their second possession, driving 60 yards on 11 plays, with Frank Gore scoring his 13th career touchdown against the Rams on a one-yard run up the middle with 2:58 left in the first quarter. San Francisco converted three third downs on the drive, which included only one play of more than 11 yards — a 23-yard run by Gore on the first play of the series.
But that was all the scoring in the first half in what was a defensive struggle. The Rams got after quarterback Colin Kaepernick, making his third start for the 49ers, with some early blitzing — more blitzing than usual for their defense. And they also registered three sacks in the opening half — two by William Hayes and one by Eugene Sims.
With Robert Quinn coming off a concussion, Sims started at right defensive end Sunday, and Quinn only got a handful of plays on defense in the first half.
By the half, the teams had combined for only 198 yards and 12 first downs. Pinned in their own end for much of the half, the Rams didn’t even cross midfield until after the 2-minute warning. Chipping away at the 49ers’ defense with short passes, Sam Bradford found tight end Lance Kendricks on a seam route for a 20-yard gain to the 49ers’ 48.
But on third-and-2 from the 40, Steve Smith dropped a pass for first-down yardage. So with 30 seconds left, out trotted place-kicker Greg Zuerlein, but his 58-yard field goal attempt missed wide right.
In terms of simply moving the football the Rams kept that little bit of offensive momentum alive to start the second half. On their first possession of the third quarter, the Rams drove from their 22 to the San Francisco 4. Jackson had two big pass receptions, on gains of 20 and 22 yards.
But on fourth-and-1 from the 4, Bradford threw incomplete in the back right corner of the end zone to Austin Pettis. San Francisco took over on downs, but the Rams defense was unyielding. On third-and-11 from the 3, a blitzing Janoris Jenkins nearly tackled Kaepernick in the end zone. As James Laurinaitis moved in to hit Kaepernick, he attempted to throw the ball away but the ball never passed the line of scrimmage. By rule, that’s a safety and with the two points the Rams trailed 7-2.
With the aid of a dubious roughing the passer call against Quinn, the 49ers tacked on a field goal for a 10-2 lead. On second-and-8 from the San Francisco 30, Quinn was flagged on an incomplete pass from Kaerpernick although there appeared to be no or very little contact between Quinn and Kaepernick on the play.
The penalty gave San Francisco a first down at its 45, and then three completions by Kaepernick pushed the 49ers deep into St. Louis territory. David Akers’ 23-yard kick with just under 9 minutes to play in the fourth quarter gave the 49ers a 10-2 lead, and meant the Rams needed a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to tie the game.
They got just that — thanks again to the defense. With San Francisco pinned in its own territory, the 49ers got too cute on third-and-3 from the 17. Kaepernick faked a handoff into the line to Gore, then tossed a pitch to wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. But the pitch was high and sailed over Ginn’s head. A hustling Jenkins scooped up the ball at the 3-yard line and scored a TD.
Next came the 2-point try. After backing up five yards on a false start penalty against left tackle Rodger Saffold, the Rams still converted the 2-point conversion on a Bradford pass to Kendricks. Suddenly, the score was tied 10-10 with 3:04 to play. But the lead didn’t last long, thanks to more running magic by Kaepernick, who scrambled 50 yards around right end to put the 49ers into field goal range. Akers’ kick made it 13-10 San Francisco with 1:34 to play.
But two scrambles by Bradford and a personal foul against 49ers safety Dashon Goldson for jumping on a sliding Bradford at the end of one of those scrambles, put the Rams in field goal range. And as time expired, the slumping Zuerlein nailed a 53-yarder to tie the game 13-13 and send the teams into overtime for the second time in three weeks.