Game rewind: 49ers 28, Rams 25
THE HERO Make that heroes. The entire San Francisco defense gets the nod here, finally outlasting a relentless St. Louis offense that pounded the ball at the 49ers for more than 39 minutes and 89 plays. With the San Francisco offense producing no first downs in the fourth quarter – and just 12 for the game – it was up to the defense to hold onto the victory, and it did it by forcing the lone St. Louis turnover in the final minute while the Rams were positioning themselves for a game-tying field goal. But that hardly was the only time San Francisco's defense came up big. Niners defenders did it all game long, producing seven sacks, eight passes knocked away and four or more tackles by nine different players. The Rams produced just one touchdown in five trips inside the red zone. THE GOAT St. Louis coach Mike Martz. Martz had a game of wildly contrasting coaching ups and downs, pulling away too early from a running game that had been effective to allow the Rams to assume early command, but coming up with some magnificent calls later to put the Rams on the precipice of rallying all the way back from a 19-point deficit. But with the Rams in field-goal range in the final minute, Martz – with no timeouts – called a pass into the middle of the field that was intercepted to end the threat – and game. Even if that ball had been caught, the Rams would have had time for one more rushed play before having to settle for a field goal. Martz quickly admitted his strategy was a blown call that backfired with the game on the line. "I felt like we could've tied it up at the end," Martz said. "The interception was a play I wish I could take back. It was just a bad call on my part that cost us the game. It's hard to look those guys in the eye in the locker room knowing that had we'd made a better play call, we would've given them a chance to win it." Not to mention better play calls in the second quarter while San Francisco was building a 21-9 halftime lead. KEY STAT The 49ers sacked St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger seven times for 46 yards in losses, their most sacks in a game since 1996 and the sixth-most in a game in franchise history. Veteran Bryant Young, starting his first game at defensive end in the team's new 3-4 scheme, matched his career high with three sacks and linebacker Julian Peterson – playing his first game since tearing his left Achilles tendon last October – had a career-high 2.5 sacks. THE TURNING POINT The 49ers led 7-6 midway through the second quarter, and St. Louis' Reggie Hodges dropped back to punt after quarterback Marc Bulger was sacked for an eight-yard loss back to the St. Louis 31-yard line on a third-and-15 play. Hodges sailed a 44-yard kick into the hands of rookie Otis Amey, making his professional debut as San Francisco's punt returner in place of last year's returner, Arnaz Battle. Niners coach Mike Nolan mulled over the decision all week whether to start Battle – San Francisco's starting flanker this year – or Amey in the role. He's glad he chose Amey, who officially changed his first name from Fred to Otis earlier in the week. On his first touch of the football in the NFL, Amey reeled in Hodges' kick at the 25-yard line, made a quick burst forward to break past the first wave of defenders, veered toward the left side, then cut back through traffic to the right until the only man between him and open field was Hodges. Amey easily turned the corner on Hodges near midfield and raced the rest of the way into the end zone for a stunning 75-yard touchdown return that increased San Francisco's lead to 14-6 during the 49ers' 21-point second-quarter explosion. THE BIG PLAY The Rams – trailing by 19 points midway through the third quarter – rallied to within 28-25 late in the fourth period and then got the ball back at the San Francisco 38-yard line with 59 seconds to play. After an encroachment call on the Niners moved the ball to the 33, the Rams still had time to get closer for a game-tying field-goal attempt or even steal a victory outright. But quarterback Marc Bulger's first-down pass was thrown slightly behind receiver Isaac Bruce, who tipped the ball into the waiting arms of second-year nickel back Mike Adams. Adams – who earlier in the fourth quarter dropped an interception that would have sealed the victory – didn't miss out when given a second opportunity. He clutched the ball into his lap with 52 seconds play, sealing the victory on the only turnover committed by the Rams in their 89 offensive plays. STANDOUT PERFORMER In his first game back from an Achilles tendon tear that ended his 2004 season in October, 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson was all over the field and seemed to get stronger as the game progressed. He was a thorn in the side of the St. Louis offense all afternoon long and finished second on the team with eight tackles, to go along with a career-high 2.5 sacks and one pass defensed. NUMBERS TO NOTE --- 0: First downs for 49ers in fourth quarter. --- 0.7: Kevan Barlow's average per carry in first half – four yards on six carries. --- 1: Total net yards rushing by 49ers in first half, on seven carries. --- 12: Game-high total of tackles for 49ers cornerback Ahmed Plummer. --- 12:31: Time of possession for Rams in first quarter, when St. Louis ran 23 plays to just five for the 49ers. --- 14: Efficiency percentage for 49ers on third down, when they converted just one first down on seven attempts during the game. --- 14.3: Net average by the Rams on their four punts. --- 21: Second-quarter points by the 49ers, the most in one period by the team since 2003. --- 21.7: Brandon Lloyd's average per catch on three receptions, including a 35-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter. --- 22: Yards rushing gained by Barlow, on 14 carries. --- 24: Yards gained on receiver Arnaz Battle's first NFL pass, a completion to Brandon Lloyd after Battle took a lateral pass from quarterback Tim Rattay. --- 39:23: Time of possession for St. Louis. --- 56: Passes thrown by St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger. --- 75: Yards on second-quarter punt return by Fred Amey, the sixth-longest punt return for a touchdown by a rookie in 49ers history. --- 125: Total yards of offense for Rams in first quarter, when the 49ers had just 12 net yards of offense. --- 141.9: Tim Rattay's quarterback rating. It was 156.2 at halftime. FAST FACTS --- The Rams now hold a 58-53-2 lead in the all-time series between the two teams. The 49ers won for the second time in four games against the Rams but just the third time in the past 13 games against their long-time rival. --- The 49ers took the field for the season opener with a total of 17 new players on their roster as compared to the end of the 2004 season. --- Mike Nolan, the 15th head coach in 49ers history, became just the fifth coach to win his first game with the team. --- Eric Heitmann started at right guard after playing the entire preseason at center in place of an injured Jeremy Newberry. It was Heitmann's first start at right guard after starting at left guard his first three NFL seasons. --- Rookie Fred Amey is the second 49er to score a touchdown the first time he touched the football. Receiver Nate Singleton's first NFL reception was a six-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Steve Young in a 1993 game against Atlanta. --- Terry Jackson's recovery of an onside kick in the second quarter was the first successful onside kick for the 49ers since 1987.
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