Reading the keys: 49ers/Rams
Don't let Rams get Steven Jackson and running game rolling YES: The 49ers were stout in stopping both Jackson and his backup, Daryl Richardson, but particularly the hard-charging Jackson, who took a lot of punishment from the San Francisco defense and was limited to just 48 yards rushing on 21 carries, a 2.3-yard average. Between the two, Jackson and Richardson were stuffed for 54 yards on 24 carries as the St. Louis rushing game went nowhere and did little to keep the Rams in the game. Break out the offensive arsenal with Kaepernick at the controls NO: The 49ers played it close to the vest offensively and never really gave Kaepernick many opportunities to put his vast talents on display, other than broken plays where the young quarterback bounced out of the pocket and made things happen on his own. Kaepernick ended up as the game's leading rusher with 84 yards on nine carries on plays such as that, but the Niners were a little too restrained in opening up their attack, particularly on a day when their defense was stuffing the Rams and playing so well. The Niners never pushed the envelope offensively to build on their early 7-0 lead, and St. Louis' first eight points all came when the 49ers were on offense. And when the 49ers finally did decide to open it up, they did it at the worst possible time and worst possible situation, with Kaepernick's errant pitch on a read option deep in his own territory turning into St. Louis' only touchdown at a time when San Francisco was holding an eight-point lead and was only three minutes from victory. Limit the impact of WRs Danny Amendola and Chris Givens NO: The 49ers didn't have to worry about Amendola, who burned them for 11 receptions for 102 yards three weeks ago in San Francisco. The Rams made Amendola, who was limited in practiced this week, inactive with a foot injury, but San Francisco couldn't take advantage of St. Louis being without its leading receiver. That's because Givens made plays in the passing game throughout the afternoon, particularly in crunch time when the Rams needed them to stay in the game. Givens had a key third-down reception to take the Rams into San Francisco territory on St. Louis' overtime drive to the game-winning field goal, and the rookie out of Wake Forest finished with a career day, leading all receivers with 11 catches for 92 yards. Get Gore and ground game going early and establish a new backup NO: Gore was a workhorse as usual and he scored San Francisco's only touchdown on a one-yard run while occasionally bursting through the line for some nice chunks of yardage, including a 23-yard run. But Gore had a 16-yard run nullified by penalty, and the Niners had trouble opening holes for him most of the afternoon, particularly as the game progressed, which is usually when Gore gets stronger. Not on this day, however, as Gore had just 18 yards rushing on 13 carries in the second half and overtime. Brandon Jacobs looked superb banging into the line for a three-yard gain on his first carry to convert a third-and-1 on San Francisco's touchdown drive, but that proved to be his longest run of the day. Jacobs finished with just six yards rushing on four carries – the only carries by a running back that did not go to Gore – which isn't exactly the kind of production the 49ers had been getting this season with Kendall Hunter as Gore's top understudy. Anthony Davis vs. Chris Long YES: This battle belonged to Davis, who did a fine job of keeping St. Louis' top defender at bay throughout the afternoon. Long was practically a non-factor in the game, finishing with only one tackle, and he never got close enough to Colin Kaepernick to get a hand on the San Francisco quarterback as Davis held up well protecting the right edge. Make it a bad day for Bradford NO: The 49ers got to Bradford twice for sacks, and the Rams could convert on only 3 of 16 third-down attempts in the game while driving into San Francisco territory just three times on their first 12 offensive drives of regulation. Yet Bradford kept his poise and kept chipping away to keep St. Louis within striking distance, then led the Rams down the field on scoring drives at the end of regulation and overtime. At the end, Bradford finished with a pretty nice day, completing 26 of 39 passes for 221 yards and an 81.2 passer rating. And he also scrambled three times for 31 yards, coming up with a big play on the drive that resulted in St. Louis' game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. Better dome performance from kicking specialists and special teams NO: Ted Ginn Jr. managed six yards on two punt returns as San Francisco's return game was practically non-existent. And David Akers – who missed two field goals last week, one of them blocked – had perhaps the most crucial miss of his two-year career in a 49ers uniform, sailing his 51-yard attempt midway through overtime wide of the right upright. That kick would have given the 49ers a hard-fought victory if Akers had made it. He didn't, and the Niners never got another chance to pull out the win as Akers' miss gave St. Louis the ball at the St. Louis 41. The Rams only had to drive 22 yards from there to set up Greg Zuerlein for a shot at victory from 54 yards. And unlike Akers, Zuerlein didn't miss his game-winning attempt.