49ers, Rams need more time again
A collective sigh whisked across the Bay Area and from the rest of the San Francisco 49ers fans as David Akers pushed a 51-yarder to win the OT re-match with the St. Louis Rams. Battling a pelvis injury and after watching kicker tryouts in Santa Clara, Akers failed to rectify a miss in the last overtime game between these division rivals. Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein ended it with his 7th 50-plus yard field goal of the season with a 54-yarder that fluttered towards the left of the uprights, but stayed true for the 16-13 OT win.
The Rams, clad in their blue and gold Anaheim throwbacks, hung around due to timely poor offensive play calling by SF and some seriously unconventional scoring – a safety, defensive touchdown, a two-point conversion, and a field goal from “Legatron” Zuerlein with 0:02 seconds left to tie it up at 13 a piece. The questionable play calling in key situations helped create the scores.
Midway through the third quarter, on 1st and 10 from their 17-yard line, the 49ers ran a play action pass. Kaepernick’s pass flew out-of-bounds while under pressure in the end zone, which drew a flag for intentional grounding and a safety. Fox Sports’ Mike Pereira shot down the call as a safety since the line of scrimmage extends out-of-bounds, and the ball landed beyond it. Unfortunately, the call could not be challenged, much to the chagrin of Jim Harbaugh. With a 7-0 lead in a defensive struggle, a deep drop, play action pass seemed like an unnecessary risk.
The defensive touchdown scored on scooped up fumble by Janoris Jenkins, repeatedly victimized by single coverage quick slants by both Crabtree and Mannigham throughout the game, was also unnecessary. The result of a poor pitch by CK7 to Ted Ginn off of a dive fake, the young QB should not have been put in that position. On 3rd and 3, again from the 49ers 17-yard line, the frivolous decision to not let Gore or Jacobs barrel forward in a jumbo run package cost the Niners the lead. Sam Bradford tossed a two-point conversion to Lance Hendricks and the score read 10-10 with three minutes left in the 4th.
Kaepernick’s turnover surely jump-started the game long rumblings of the quarterback debate. Faced with close-ups of he and Alex Smith, Kaepernick scrambled away from it. Escorted by Bruce Miller and Frank Gore, he got loose down the sideline, sprung off a huge block by Gore, for 50 of his 84 rushing yards. Momentum quickly shifted back to the Niners. Inexplicably, the Niners, with two minutes left, used play action again for the knock out blow to Delaney Walker, but the pass rattled out of his grasp.
The incomplete pass stopped the clock and the Rams preserved one of their two remaining timeouts. Then, a holding penalty on Walker, no doubt trying to make up for the dropped pass, stopped the clock again. Their defense held and forced a field goal with 1:38 left on the clock. Sam Bradford calmly walked his team down the field for the game tying 53-yard field goal.
Even in OT at the 7:29 mark, Rams punter Johnny Hekker, who pinned the Niners at the one-yard line in the 3rd, unleashed a 14-yard shank that flew straight up into the St. Louis sky. But, the Niners resolved to use their field position at the 50 to set up a missed field goal, only to watch Jeff Fisher’s Rams celebrate a win that the Niners game managed away.
Now the real chatter begins.
Does this loss mean that the Kaepernick honeymoon is officially over? It is his first loss as a starter, but against a “lesser” opponent that he struggled against in a similar fashion in his relief appearance three weeks ago. Coupled with his 84 yards on the ground, CK7 threw for 208 yards on 21 of 32. Although he completed passes to seven different receivers, the majority of his targets were to Crabtree for 101 yards, Manningham, and Moss. The only touchdown drive featured the Bill Walsh-esque throws out of the backfield to Bruce Miller, but he, Gore, and Vernon Davis only got 6 targets. Granted, the Rams, like the rest of the NFL, took away Davis, but his involvement should be greater.
Will the Team Alex supporters use Kaepernick’s lack of passing touchdowns as the proof that will cost Colin his job and put the 70 percent completion machine back under center? Prior to the 50-yard sideline scramble, Smith, who spent most of the game away from the coaches seemingly pouting while checking plays on his wrist, engaged with the coaching staff following the fumble, looking as if he expected to go in the game.
Did the Niners offensive brain trust fall too in love with eating Janoris Jenkins’ soft coverage and completely forget about the running game? The lure of four to six yard chunks per play against one-on-one coverage is great. The Niners continued to attack it, especially since the Rams didn’t seem to mind. Gore did get 23 attempts, only managing 58 yards. Jacobs touched the ball a few more times, marking his steady increase of involvement in the game plan. Yet, three or four more carries could have meant the game and a W in the division.
The Niners definitely left this one on the table. Heading home for a match up against the 5-7 Dolphins, the Niners have plenty of questions to ponder.
Jonathan Cha is an NFL writer for TPF and can be contacted at JCha@ThePenaltyFlagBlog.com.