49ers finish with a bang

Mike Singletary always talks about finishing. The 49ers didn't always do that when it counted this season, but on Sunday they assembled the kind of finish that not only made their coach proud, but also put a punctuation on a 2009 season that didn't turn out all that bad after all as a dominant 28-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams ended the most ignominious string of losing in team history.

The 49ers awoke from a slumbering first half to throttle the Rams with four second-half touchdowns – three in a five-minute span of the final quarter – to give San Francisco an 8-8 finish, the first time since 2002 the Niners have finished at the break-even mark or above.

And so, the 49ers rang in the New Year with a bang by sweeping the Rams to finish 5-1 against NFC West opponents this season.

A terrible start – the 49ers trailed the punchless Rams 3-0 at halftime and went three-and-out on four of their first seven offensive possessions – evolved into a crushing finish and a celebratory locker room afterwards that saw the Niners eagerly looking forward to next season after ending this one with a two-game winning streak.

"This means a lot," tight end Vernon Davis said. "Of course, we have some games in the past this year that we shouldn't have left on the table. But to finish up strong, 8-8, it means a lot to the coaching staff and to the players as well. That's what we needed to have out of this game."

Davis made sure the 49ers got it, sparking life into a stagnant San Francisco offense midway through the fourth quarter by taking a pass from Alex Smith on the right sideline and out-running the St. Louis defense for a 73-yard touchdown play – San Francisco's longest pass play of the season.

That extended a tenuous one-point San Francisco lead to 14-6 and opened the floodgates for two more touchdowns that the 49ers would tack on shortly thereafter on scoring runs by running back Frank Gore, who rushed for 107 yards on 23 carries to tie Joe Perry's franchise record with his 20th career 100-yard rushing game.

After managing just 52 yards of total offense in the first half, the 49ers rambled for 277 in the final two quarters and finished with a lopsided 329-109 advantage in total yards.

"It was one of those games," said Davis, whose 13th scoring catch of the season tied Antonio Gates for the NFL record for most touchdown receptions by a tight end. "We started off slow and there was no energy in the stadium. It was hard for us to get going. We just had to pick it up. It just happens like that some time."

The 49ers were predictable and conservative offensively during their sluggish first half but mixed it up with more passes on first and second down to get the attack going in the second half.

Quarterback Alex Smith finished with another fine performance, completing 17 of 28 passes for 222 yards and a passer rating of 97.6. He guided the 49ers on three consecutive touchdown drives in the final quarter after directing an eight-play, 88-yard scoring drive on San Francisco's second possession of the third quarter to give the Niners a lead they never would relinquish.

"We were unproductive and didn't get it done in the first half," Smith said. "But we changed it up in the second half, and there was a little more balance. We came out and did some things, moved the ball better and finished off some of those drives."

And in the end, Singletary could smile about it. But that wasn't the case early as the heavily-favored 49ers looked as though they might keep the hapless Rams in the game with their inefficient and ineffective play.

"This is not the style of game we wanted to have, not the way we wanted it to go," Singletary said. "Nevertheless, I am thankful we were able to come back out in the second half and makes some plays and put some drives together. But our defense played well all day. I thought they really got after them."

That's no overstatement. The 49ers sacked St. Louis quarterbacks eight times – the most sacks by San Francisco in a game since 1998 – and allowed its fewest yards in a game since the end of the 2000 season.

Leading the charge was defensive end Justin Smith, who played like a man possessed while registering a career-high 3.5 sacks. Smith also led the 49ers with eight tackles and had four stops behind the line of scrimmage.

Five other San Francisco players had at least a partial sack, including defensive backs Dashon Goldson and Dre Bly as the 49ers came at the Rams from all angles. St. Louis finished with just six first downs and only had three drives that penetrated the 49ers' side of the field.

And so, the 49ers finally finished a game that was teetering on the brink entering the fourth quarter. The 49ers had failed to do that previously several times on the road this season, losing five games away from home by a combined 19 points.

But against an inferior St. Louis squad, the 49ers showed what they are made of and added to the momentum they will carry into 2010.

"It's nice to start the season with a win on the road (at Arizona) and end the season with a win on the road," Singletary said. "It's very gratifying, and it's something we can take into the offseason and go from there."



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