Fiery 49ers finish Rams

So this is what Mike Singletary means when he talks about finishing. For all too long Sunday, the 49ers returned to their bumbling ways of yesteryear, practically handing the game to the St. Louis Rams in array of porous play. But in stunning fashion, they took it back at the end, scoring two touchdowns in the final four minutes to pull out a dramatic – and ultimately satisfying – 17-16 victory.

The way the 49ers rallied to win for the fourth time in six weeks and exceed their victory total of last year with one game remaining allowed them to practically feel giddy about this one afterwards despite how poorly they played during most of the first three quarters.

"It was quite unusual, but I am really proud of the way our guys performed," said Singletary, who has lifted the 49ers from a 2-7 start to a 6-9 record. He evened his record as San Francisco's coach to 4-4 since taking over for Mike Nolan in October.

"I'm just really, really happy for our guys," Singletary continued. "The guys hung in there, stayed with it and fought to the end, and that was really great to see. It was a nice one to finish today."

And finishing better than just about anybody on the field was 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill, who overcame three interceptions and erratic play through three quarters to throw for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and lead the 49ers back from a 16-3 deficit with fewer than five minutes to play.

Hill threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce to complete an 80-yard touchdown drive with 4:08 remaining to play, then – after a resilient San Francisco defense stopped the Rams on their ensuing possession – led the 49ers on a quick-striking four-play drive that ended with Hill finding a leaping Josh Morgan at the goal line to complete a 48-yard play for the winning touchdown with 1:05 remaining.

Morgan went up and took the ball out of the air with three defenders and teammate Jason Hill also closing in on the ball.

The Rams still had time to drive for a possible game-winning field goal, but San Francisco came up with the big defensive plays to seal the deal. After St. Louis reached the San Francisco 45-yard line, linebacker Patrick Willis stopped Steven Jackson for a 3-yard loss on first down, then cornerback Tarell Brown stepped in front of receiver Donnie Avery for a game-clinching interception with 22 seconds to play.

And so, the 49ers pulled out a victory in a game during which they were out-played a week after losing a game in which they thoroughly out-played the Miami Dolphins on the road, but couldn't prevail on the scorebard.

"We always talk about winning and we always talk about learning how to win close games," 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "We wish we could turn back the hands of time and take back a lot of games, especially the one last week against Miami. But we were put in the same situation, on the road everything was going against us, but everybody believed, everybody stuck. And I think the thing that was most impressive about this victory was that you had guys, everyone making plays. Ah man, it was good."

Making several big plays for the Niners was Hill, who was enduring the most dreadful game of his career through three quarters. But he was on fire when it counted down the stretch, and pulled out the victory with a magnificent fourth quarter.

Hill was 10 of 15 passing for 127 yards and the two touchdowns in the final quarter and finished 18 for 34 for 216 yards overall.

"The guy I was most proud of today was Shaun Hill," Singletary said. "Because I was going to choke him, I was going to do a number of things; I was even going to take him out."

Singletary said he had already told backup J.T. O'Sullivan on the sidelines late in the third quarter that he would be replacing Hill. But when he informed Hill of the decision, the quarterback talked him out of it.

"The only thing that stopped me was the look in his eyes," Singletary said. "He said, ‘Don't do that coach, I'm going to be OK'. I said, ‘Alright, let's go.' I am really proud of him. The most important thing is he came back.

"I don't care if he throws 10 interceptions, but at the end when you can come back and can overcome things like that, it says a lot about your mindset. It says a lot about the leadership, and it shows how the team continues to rally around him and believe in him and know he is going to get it done. I think Shaun grew today and I'm excited for him. He kept fighting and he overcame that and that's the best thing that happened today."

Playing before a contingent of family and friends, Hill made several uncharacteristic mistakes and poor throws that became easy St. Louis interceptions. Hill had thrown just four interceptions in 224 attempts this season entering the game.

"I'm sure they were getting heckled quite a bit in the stands there," Hill said. "I'm going to have to apologize to them for all that."

No apologies necessary, as it turns out. Hill also led the 49ers with a career-high 45 yards rushing – including a career-best 24-yard run – to personally account for 261 of San Francisco's 273 offensive yards.

But Hill wasn't the only 49er making plays when it counted. And Isaac Bruce was doing that throughout the day on afternoon when he reached a pair of historic milestones.

The 36-year-old veteran became the fifth player in NFL history to reach 1,000 career receptions with his 3-yard touchdown grab late in the game. He then passed Tim Brown into second place on the career yards receiving list while catching an eight-yard pass that kept San Francisco's game-winning drive moving. Bruce finished with game-high totals of seven receptions for 61 yards.

"It was a great game in the last quarter," Bruce said. "I'm very, very honored."

That's how a lot of 49ers were feeling late Sunday after a great comeback clinched a second-place finish in the NFC West and puts San Francisco in a position to match its best record of the past five seasons in the season finale next week against Washington.

"What a roller-coaster," Hill said. "But this team just never gave up. It's just kind of been our MO through this whole thing, really. We just kept fighting and were able to get a ‘W,' and that's all that really matters."



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