Rams Score NFC Western Title
Rams fall short in an overtime against the San Francisco 49ers
January 13, 2022
Charles Dickens would probably summarize the Ram's game last Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers like this. It was a dominant half, it was an ineffective half, it was the time of great play calling, it was the time for costly mistakes. It was the epoch of belief, and it was the epoch of doubt. It was the game to clinch the NFC West. It was the game to exorcise the demons of the San Francisco 49ers. It was the dawn of hope and it ended in the dusk of despair.
The Rams had everything before them. They could finish their rival's season, they were gearing up for a Super Bowl run, yet are left with doubts and chinks in their armor. Los Angeles has Jalen Ramsey playing in the defensive backfield, yet they have an otherwise unreliable secondary. They have the dominant defensive lineman in Aaron Donald but cannot stop the run. They upgraded at the lone position holding the team back, quarterback. Still, somehow Stafford is making the same mistakes Jared Goff made. In short, the 27-24 overtime loss was so far from how the Los Angeles Rams wanted to begin their playoff run that some of their most boisterous fans insisted on avoiding the 49ers during the playoffs, for better or for worse, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Last Sunday, Los Angeles entered the game on a five-game winning streak. And despite losing the game, the Rams captured their third divisional title under Sean McVay. They disconsolately claimed the NFC West after the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Arizona Cardinals.
It looked like a foregone conclusion that Los Angeles was prepared to snap their five-game skid against San Francisco in the first half. The Rams managed to take a commanding 17-0 lead with their first three possessions, a stark contrast to the Week 10 matchup where Matthew Stafford was intercepted on his first two possessions. Stafford went 15 of 16 for 153 yards in the first half, connecting with tight end Tyler Higbee for two touchdowns.
McVay's team put San Francisco in a bind by forcing two punts and an interception in their first three trips on defense. Ramsey and Donald set the tone and led the way for the Rams. After delivering a blow to, and bouncing off, 49er wide receiver Deebo Samuel, Ramsey gave Samuel an earful.
Donald continued to flex his usual dominance. He disrupted the 49er's backfield, stymied San Francisco's ability to develop any offensive rhythm or cohesion and forced an errant throw across the middle in the second quarter by 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo which safety Taylor Rapp intercepted. And although Los Angeles held the ball for double the amount of time than the 49ers in the first half, all it took was the waning 38 seconds in the first half for San Francisco to build some offensive momentum.
With the last possession in the first half, the 49ers marched 61 yards in six plays and put their first points on the scoreboard with a 42-yard Robbie Gould field goal.
The Rams went into the locker room lively at the half but somehow exited listlessly. San Francisco went into the locker room grasping for their playoff lives and left the break refreshed and motivated.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan intimated the salience of getting the field goal before the half. "I mean, it was great. It made it a lot easier coming in after that field goal, which was huge. I thought the defense, I just said to them, 'You guys have been playing unbelievable.' We just (got to) figure out how to get off on third down, which is a big deal, and then offense, I just thought it was great that I didn't have to say much because we finished with the field goal. I think we had like 15 plays there in the first half. I think it was like five runs, ten passes. We couldn't get it going. We had some bad sacks. I think we had a penalty, didn't have some very good down and distance, but we finished with points, and we knew we were starting with the ball. So that just allowed you to focus right away."
In the second half San Francisco scored fast as Samuel punctuated their opening drive with a 16-yard touchdown run. And after the Rams were forced to punt after a three-and-out, Shanahan picked on the Rams' defensive strengths.
San Francisco tied the game at 17-17 after running roughshod over the Rams. The 49ers ran 10 consecutive running plays for 50 yards before setting up a 24-yard touchdown pass from Samuel to Jauan Johnson, picking on Ramsey in the process.
Conversely, throughout the contest, Los Angeles was unable to run the ball, even with the addition of Cam Akers, who returned to action after rupturing his Achilles during training camp. With the run game halted, the 49ers made life difficult for Stafford.
"Yeah, we weren't able to run the ball at all. We didn't get any efficiency running the ball and then we were having trouble protecting," McVay stated. With no success on the ground and their rivals seizing momentum and control of the tilt, Stafford threw his first of two interceptions after Emmanuel Mosley picked off his intended pass to Ben Skowronek deep along the left sideline.
Although San Francisco had all the momentum going into the fourth quarter, scoring 17 unanswered points to notch the score 17-17, Los Angeles was by no means ready to hand the 49ers the game.
With the 49ers threatening to take the lead, Ramsey tipped and juggled Garoppolo's intended pass to George Kittle, securing the interception while diving to the turf. When asked how he managed to make such a remarkable play, Ramsey tersely said, "God...it was all God."
The miraculous interception was the salve needed to provide the Rams with a spark. Los Angeles promptly marched 92-yards down the field, and Stafford connected with Cooper Kupp in the left corner of the endzone for a 4-yard touchdown.
Kupp, the league leader in receiving yards, finished the game with seven catches for 118 yards but fell 17 yards short (1947) of breaking Calvin Johnson's single-season record of 1,964.
With a 99.6% chance of winning, with 1:57 remaining in the game, the Rams managed to squander the game. After forcing San Francisco to punt the ball with 1:56 remaining, Los Angeles could not pick up the first down to put away the game and was forced to punt.
All looked well until second and five with 52 seconds remaining when Garoppolo, again picking on Ramsey, connected with Samuel for 43 yards to get the ball just inside the endzone.
Los Angeles conceded the game-tying touchdown and sent the game into overtime after their miscommunication in the secondary allowed Jennings to score his second touchdown on the day.
Until last Sunday, Los Angeles had been 43-0 when leading by at least 17 points under McVay, but San Francisco was the team snapping records.
After Gould's 24-yard kick gave the 49ers their first lead of the game, Stafford sealed the Rams' fate after he short-armed a throw intended for Beckham Jr. and was picked off by rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas.
Unfortunately, the Rams have the appearance of a team comprised of bleak hope. After they hedged their upcoming draft for a shot at a Super Bowl, acquiring Von Miller, Beckham Jr., and Stafford in the process, the Rams' only justification for going all-in is a Super Bowl. Anything less than that is a failure. They know this and now will have their resilience tested.
"Yeah, I think the biggest thing is we're a resilient bunch. We have been all year, whether we're playing at home, playing on the road, things are going our way, things aren't going our way, we continue to battle," Stafford said.
"That's what it takes to win games in the playoffs," said Stafford. "There's no question. You've got to play good football, but you've got to be resilient too. Right now, it's testing us. We lost the football game that we had chances to win and would have felt great winning that game and winning the division the way we wanted to win the division, but we're a resilient group, and we'll be ready to go."
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