LIVE Game Blog: 49ers vs. Rams
(11:55) A big surprise here. With Shawntae Spencer unable to make the starting call because of his sprained ankle suffered last week against Seattle, the 49ers opt to start newcomer Donald Strickland in Spencer's place at left cornerback. Strickland, a San Francisco native who joined the 49ers earlier this month, has been inactive his first three games with the team and the 49ers' opening play on defense will be his first snap with the team … (12:01) The Rams win the opening toss, so they're going on offense first. The 49ers have no problem with that, since it is their defense that has put them in a position to make waves in the NFC today after three tremendous performances. Another one sure wouldn't hurt here … (12:07) The 49ers are going to see a lot of Steven Jackson today, but that's no surprise. Jackson gets the call on the game's first three plays from scrimmage, and he rumbles for a first down on the second before the Niners shut him down on the third. The Rams also go to Jackson with a swing pass on third-and-short, and he keeps the drive moving. And then there's Stephen Davis, giving Jackson a blow and picking up another first down on two carries himself. The Rams are going right down the field, and the 49ers need a stop to slow down the St. Louis momentum … (12:11) And there it is, right off the bat! Manny Lawson drops into coverage and launches his 6-foot-5 frame into the air to make a spectacular interception in front of receiver Torry Holt on the right sideline. Lawson lands on the sideline, but it looks as though he has enough of his body in the field of play. And, yes, officials rule it an interception. The Rams challenge the call, but it's to no avail. So it's 49ers ball, and as an added bonus, the Rams lose a timeout … (12:14) First offensive play for the 49ers, and who they gonna call? It's a handoff to Frank Gore, of course, and he bursts over the left side for an 11-yard gain. How's that for setting the tone? The drive stalls, however, when Gore is stopped just short of the first down on a third-and-7 swing pass. It's fourth-and-inches at the San Francisco 44, but coach Mike Nolan doesn't think twice about going for it. Too early in the game to be taking that kind of chance, and the 49ers punt it away … (12:26) Another big play by that opportunistic defense! Holt takes a short pass in the right flat, but Walt Harris comes up and sticks him right away. Harris pops the ball out! Then he scoops it up at the 50-yard line and runs it back for the touchdown! But wait. Did Holt have possession of the ball before Harris popped it out? The Rams challenge again. Replays look pretty either/or, so this one could stand. But no. Officials rule that Holt didn't have the ball long enough, and the Rams win their challenge. Tough break for the 49ers, because that one was close, and six points get taken off the board … (12:28) After the challenge, the Rams face a third-and-16, and it's a jailbreak in the backfield. Roderick Green, Bryant Young and Brandon Moore meet at the same spot - St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger - and Bulger goes down hard. Green and Young each get credit for half a sack, and the Rams are stoned again … (12:40) Gore off left tackle for 11 yards on first down. Smith throws incomplete on the next two downs, but he waits in the pocket on third down and slips out a screen pass to Gore, who waits patiently behind his blockers and then bursts for a 16-yard gain and a first down. Smith then finds Arnaz Battle over the middle for 18 yards, and that's how the first quarter ends, with the 49ers driving into Rams territory at the St. Louis 36 … (12:46) It's not a good day for Antonio Bryant. Coming off arrest for drunken and reckless driving after last week's big win over the Seahawks, Bryant is flagged for holding on a tackle-breaking 28-yard gain by Gore - Bryant's second drive-killing penalty already this afternoon. Gore's run would have taken the ball inside the St. Louis 10-yard line, but instead the Niners are pushed back to the 34 and, after two Smith incompletions, Nolan opts to punt again instead of trying a long Joe Nedney field goal … (1:01) Lawson goes into the locker room to have chest X-rays, and the Rams, starting at their own 20, proceed to grind out a 14-play, 74-yard drive that seems destined for the San Francisco end zone. St. Louis converts to third downs to keep the drive moving, but Isaac Bruce is stopped just inches short on a third-and-5 pass. The ball is at the San Francisco 6, and the way Jackson is ploughing through the San Francisco defense, it seems he can pick up a few inches. But St. Louis coach Scott Linehan sends in the field-goal team. In 0-0 game midway through the second quarter, you take the sure points. And Jeff Wilkins provides them with a gimme 24-yard field goal, making it 3-0 Rams … (1:05) There's a Vernon Davis sighting! The explosive rookie runs a short arrow route in the right flat, and he shakes off rookie cornerback Tye Hill as if he were a fly after taking a pass from Smith and rumbles for the first down. It's the first-round draft pick's first reception since he had five in the season opener The drive is halted abruptly three plays later, however, when Smith underthrows Bryant on third down and Hill - running stride for stride with Bryant in great coverage - turns and makes the interception … (1:12) But the Rams go nowhere on three plays, and St. Louis has to give it up. Matt Turks sails a 46-yard punt, and Battle circles underneath it at the San Francisco 36 and has some room in front of him. The St. Louis coverage team converges quickly, and Battle splits two defenders as he surges upfield. But there goes the ball! Battle is stripped by Will Witherspoon, and former 49er Dwaine Carpenter pounces on the free ball at the 36. Big play for the Rams and bad break for the 49ers, who seemed poised to grab the momentum with the first half winding down. But now it clearly belongs to the Rams … (1:13) And look at that. Jackson screams up the middle, bounces off safety Mark Roman, and strides into the end zone on the next play. Just like that, it's 10-0 Rams, and the Niners are back on their heels … (1:20) But not for long. The 49ers answer quickly and go right down the field on a four-play, 73-yard touchdown drive. Smith hooks up with Bryant on consecutive passes of 28 and 25 yards. Two plays later, Gore takes a pitch to the right and the St. Louis defense has no chance. With pulling guard Justin Smiley clearing out space, Gore bursts over the right side, then runs over free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe at the 4 and dives into the end zone. It's a 12-yard touchdown run, and just like that, the 49ers are right back in the game at 10-7... (1:24) Bulger is crushed by Young on a first-down pass with 32 seconds remaining in the half, and he throws up a deep pass that is intercepted by Harris. But it's a free play for the Rams as Green jumped the snap and was offsides. Bulger, however, isn't getting up. He stays down for a long time before finally is helped up and walks slowly off the field … (1:30) In comes Gus Frerotte, and he wings two incomplete passes before finding Kevin Curtis sliding to catch a pass down the right sideline. Curtis smartly gets up and races out of bounds to stop the clock with three seconds remaining after a 27-yard gain, putting the Rams in position for another Wilkins field goal. And he drills a 51-yarder as time runs out in the first half, making it 13-7 Rams at halftime. It could be worse for the 49ers, but it also could be a lot better … (1:44) A look at the halftime stats tell the story. The first half was the Steven Jackson show, as he rushed for 103 yards and had another 26 on pass receptions. With Jackson eating up time with his consistent gains, the Rams hold a dominating 19:41 to 10:19 advantage in time of possession. The 49ers have been unable to get off the field on third down. The Niners need to come out and get something going with the second-half kickoff … (1:49) But they don't. It's a quick three-and-out for the 49ers - or a four-and-out, if you want to count the 10-yard penalty on tight end Eric Johnson for offensive pass interference. San Francisco goes back instead of forward to begin the second half, and now the Rams are moving again with Jackson in the lead … (2:06) But the San Francisco defense gets tough, and now it's the 49ers' turn to churn out a long, time-consuming drive. Starting at the San Francisco 35, Gore goes for 12, 5 and 6 yards on consecutive carries. Then Smith hits Battle over the middle on third-and-10 for a 12-yard gain to keep the drive alive. The 49ers take it down the St. Louis 1, and on a well-conceived and executed third-down play, Battle comes in motion, Smith fakes the reverse, then finds a wide-open Johnson on the right side. Touchdown, 49ers! San Francisco has its first lead of the day at 14-13, and that 10-0 St. Louis lead has been totally erased. The 14-play, 65-yard drive ate eight minutes, 26 seconds off the clock and gave the San Francisco defense a nice rest … (2:15) And that's the end of the third quarter, with the Rams at their own 39 looking at a second-and-8. The 49ers take that one-point lead into the final 15 minutes, and it's the fourth consecutive week they've gone into the fourth quarter with a lead to protect … (2:25) Bulger - who was back at quarterback to start the second half - begins the final quarter with two completions, the second coming when he was forced to throw early on third-and-8 after getting pressured, resulting in an overthrow of a wide-open Holt down the field. Turk, punting from his own 39, hits a 48-yarder that goes out of bounds at the San Francisco 13. It's a battle of field position now, and the 49ers are falling behind as they go three-and-out. But Andy Lee, kicking from just beyond his own goal line, comes through with a monster 66-yard punt - his longest of the season - pushing returner Shaun McDonald all the way back to his 18. The Rams begin at their 34 … (2:37) The Rams get a quick first down on an 11-yard pass from Bulger to Holt that takes them out to the St. Louis 45, but then they are stoned by the San Francisco D. The 49ers get the ball back at their 18, then begin gashing the tiring St. Louis defense. There goes Gore for 11 yards, then for 18 more. But after taking the ball to the 25, Gore twists his right ankle and limps off the field. That bears some watching … (2:44) With Gore remaining on the bench, the 49ers take the ball to the St. Louis 7 behind Maurice Hicks and rookie Michael Robinson, and it doesn't look like the Rams can stop them. But one third-and-1, they do. Robinson gets the handoff and bashes into the line, but is stood up near the 6. This will be a close spot. And it's short, by about one inch. The 49ers should go for it, but Nolan doesn't take the chance. He sends in Nedney for a 24-yard field goal, and he splits the uprights, giving San Francisco three points to show for a 13-play, 75-yard drive that eats 7:34 off the clock. It's 17-13 49ers with 3:54 to play as Nolan puts the game on his defense yet again … (2:50) And that defense almost takes care of business right away. Bulger is sacked for a 10-yard loss on first down, putting the Rams back at their 10-yard line. But Jackson turns a short pass into a 13-yard gain on third-and-14, and then he bulls over the right side for six yards on fourth-and-1 … (2:58) Now the Rams are marching right down the field against soft 49ers coverage as Bulger strikes for consecutive completions of 12, 11, 22, 5, 1 and 3 yards, which takes the Rams to another fourth-and-1 at the San Francisco 13. This could be the game. But Jackson goes over left tackle for four yards, and the officials tack on four more yards when rookie Marcus Hudson is called for delay of game for not allowing Jackson to get up. The Rams have first-and-goal at the 5, but time is running out. These will be five tough yards for the Rams to get. Check that. Bulger drops back and finds Curtis with a perfect pass at the goal line, and he makes a sliding catch despite good coverage by the 49ers. The officials review the play, and the touchdown stands. And the Rams, who hadn't scored a point in the second half, get seven when it counts to go ahead 20-17 … (3:02) And that's the ball game, folks. What a disappointment for the 49ers. San Francisco has 21 seconds to work with after Hicks returns the kickoff to the 24, but it's not nearly enough time. Smith hits Johnson for 11 yards on first down, but now there's only 12 seconds remaining, and the 49ers have a long way to go to get in position for a game-tying Nedney field goal. It's not going to happen. Smith is pressured and hit as he throws, and the ball sails high and is intercepted by Atogwe to end the game. It's a heartbreaker, and just like that, the three-game winning streak comes to an end and the playoff hopes take a big hit in a game the 49ers should have won … Make sure to check back with SFIllustrated.com later this afternoon and evening for post-game coverage and comments. -- CM
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