49ers report card

There are plenty of 'A's to go around for the 49ers after one of their most determined efforts of the season resulted in a 24-20 road victory over the Rams.

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Rookie Alex Smith did not put up huge passing numbers, but he did just about everything asked of him to lead the 49ers to their first victory with him as the starting quarterback. He completed five passes on a crucial 49ers touchdown drive late in the first half, then connected on a 22-yard pass to Jason McAddley to set up a long field goal right before the half, giving the 49ers momentum. Smith completed 12 of 16 passes for 131 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was a career-best 98.7. The 49ers, however, struggled to protect Smith as he was sacked five times. Smith did much better handling the pressure this time than in previous outings.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Frank Gore and Maurice Hicks both had good games to almost ensure that the 49ers would not receive the No. 1 overall pick. Hicks scored on a 73-yard TD run on the first play from scrimmage. He finished with 109 yards on 10 carries. Gore added 68 yards on 10 carries, including two touchdowns. His 30-yard scoring run with more than four minutes remaining provided the winning margin. The run-blocking in front of those two was consistently excellent as San Francisco's young offensive line continues to show considerable improvement in that area during recent weeks.

PASSING DEFENSE: B-minus -- All things considered, the 49ers' pass defense did a fine job. Jamie Martin passed for a career-high 354 yards, but the 49ers came up with two huge fourth-quarter interceptions to secure the victory. CB Shawntae Spencer, playing with a quad strain, recorded an interception in the end zone. Then, S Ben Emanuel came up with an interception in the closing minute at the 49ers 19-yard line to clinch the victory. The bend-but-don't-break effort combined with timely big plays was instrumental in the victory, but San Francisco's pass rush again was poor as Martin was sacked just once and had plenty of time to find his receivers.

RUSHING DEFENSE: A -- The 49ers held Rams RB Steven Jackson to just 28 yards rushing on 16 carries, while Marshall Faulk had just 5 yards on three carries. The front seven made one of the big plays of the game when NT Anthony Adams and LB Derek Smith stopped Jackson on a fourth-and-1 play in the fourth quarter with the Rams at 22-yard line. The Rams averaged just 2.1 yards on their 21 carries, and their longest run – a nine-yarder – came on a scramble by Martin.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- Joe Nedney made a 56-yard field goal on the last play of the first half to give the club some momentum. Nedney also did a fine job of angling his kickoffs in a way to give the coverage unit a helping hand. The 49ers pinned the Rams inside the 20-yard line on three of the four kickoffs. Andy Lee's punting again was fine, but the coverage on his kicks was not as strong as it usually is.

COACHING: A -- The coaching staff did a fine job of shuffling things up after starting CBs Derrick Johnson and Bruce Thornton went down with injuries. LB Julian Peterson had to play defensive back on passing situations. Offensively, the 49ers put together a good variety of high-percentage passes and running plays. Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy stayed with what worked during the winning drive, as eight plays on their nine-play, 77-yard drive were runs.

OVERALL: A -- The 49ers displayed a lot of resiliency on both sides of the ball to record their first road victory in regulation since the 2002 season. San Francisco refused to unravel after St. Louis built a 20-7 lead late in the first half, and the Niners took it to the Rams the rest of the way while making the key plays in decisive situations that are necessary to win. Snapping a seven-game losing streak may have cost the 49ers a shot at the No. 1 overall draft pick, but they played to win despite extenuating circumstances and came up with one of their most determined efforts of a dismal 2005 season.

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