Jeff Garcia shrugged off the worst start of his pro career to have his best game of the season. He still was off on a few throws and short on others, but he once again appeared in control of the offense and possessed the instinctive feel for the game that makes him so dangerous. San Francisco's offense is all about precision, and Garcia was back on target while completing 18 of 26 passes for 214 yards. He also ran and passed for a touchdown in the same game for the eighth time in his career. Bottom line: Garcia on the way back after slow start.
This Garrison Hearst-Kevan Barlow thing is starting to get ridiculous. Nobody can stop them. Not the Redskins two weeks ago. Certainly not the Rams this week. Hearst set the tone of the afternoon by ripping off a 40-yard gain on San Francisco's second offensive play, and he looks like a completely different player than he did back in early September. His burst, quickness and power suddenly have returned to the level they were at last season when he made the Pro Bowl. Hearst had 116 yards on 13 carries, including a tackle-breaking 16-yard scoring run, and Barlow followed with 50 carries on 10 carries while – this time – playing the complementary role. Fullback Fred Beasley's blocking again was outstanding. Bottom line: Hearst getting better every week. So is Niners' running game.
J.J. Stokes made his opportunities count before he left the game with a sprained knee ligament in the second half. His showed some elusiveness on his 13-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, then some nice breakaway ability on a 51-yard catch-and-run that got the Niners out of a hole at their own 2-yard line. For the first time this season, Terrell Owens found some room to work, and he responded with season-high totals of seven receptions for 89 yards. He also showed sure hands on several of his receptions, something that had been lacking so far this season. Bottom line: Best game of season for starting receivers.
This unit didn't appear to miss a beat with rookie Eric Heitmann replacing out-for-the-season Dave Fiore at left guard. The run blocking was terrific from the start, and the pass blocking gave Garcia plenty of time to set up and get comfortable in the offense. Heitmann was called for a false start that pushed the Niners back to their 2-yard line, but there were very few things to nitpick about the play of this unit. Bottom line: Quality line in fine working order with new part in place.
This unit didn't have a lot of big numbers to show for its work Sunday. But it was outstanding. Tackles Dana Stubblefield and Bryant Young clogged the middle and played a big part in stuffing St. Louis' inside running game. Ends Chike Okeafor and Andre Carter got after quarterback Jamie Martin and hit him often, though they had no sacks to show for it for the first time this season. But they did have some interceptions – and a touchdown – to show for the heavy heat. Carter and Okeafor were about to sandwich Martin before he tossed his second interception that was returned for a Niners touchdown. Bottom line: Another strong defensive performance started here.
Derek Smith had a game-high nine tackles and appeared to be playing a step faster than earlier in the season, particularly in pass coverage. Jeff Ulbrich had four tackles and a sack. Julian Peterson had five tackles and knocked down a pass. With rookie reserve Saleem Rasheed contributing two tackles, it added up to sound, quality performance by a unit that helped bottle Marshall Faulk, particularly when he came out of the backfield on pass plays. Faulk averaged just 5.3 yards on his seven receptions. Bottom line: Unit did everything it was supposed to while contributing to big win.
Remember when the Rams used to take advantage of the San Francisco secondary? Not anymore. This was payback for the Niners' young defensive backs, who collectively had an outstanding game. Isaac Bruce caught just four passes for 32 yards and Torry Holt had only three grabs for 38 yards. Against a starting tandem of that quality, that should be considered a huge success. Strong safety Tony Parrish had a monster game with an interception (that he returned 50 yards), four passes defensed and nine tackles. Free safety Zack Bronson played a smart center field and had a few crunching hits. And cornerback Jason Webster provided the killer blow with an interception return for a touchdown that gave the Niners a 24-point halftime lead. Bottom line: This was a fantastic performance, particularly considering the opponent.
The only thing to complain about here were a few lapses in kickoff coverage. Jimmy Williams broke some tackles on his only punt return, which he took for 20 yards on a nice run. The Niners tried Terry Jackson returning kickoffs, but he didn't do much. Punter Jason Baker was needed only twice and did a fine job both times. Jose Cortez was 3-for-3 on routine field-goal attempts. Take away a 42-yard kickoff return by Terrence Wilkins, and the coverage units, once again, were very strong. Bottom line: Like rest of team, these units did what it took to win.
This game could have been a dangerous situation for the Niners. The Rams were playing for their season. A wounded team backed into a corner can respond by causing problems if given a chance. The Niners never gave St. Louis that chance, instead coming at the Rams with a well-designed plan on both sides of the ball. The Niners got on top early and remained there, never letting up until the game had become a rout. The coaches should be commended for this fine performance, and also for having the team fully prepared to play coming off its bye week. Bottom line: Best game of season for Niners was a big result of their gameplan.