What it means: The 49ers played to win in securing the NFC's second seed in the playoffs and the first-round bye that goes along with it. Securing the bye was hugely important for the 49ers given their injury situation. Coach Jim Harbaugh showed how much this game meant to the team. He allowed Patrick Willis to play for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury. He approved a fake field goal when the 49ers led by 10 points late in the third quarter. The 49ers needed to play well because the Rams put together a furious comeback -- a potential last stand for coach Steve Spagnuolo. The Rams emerged with the No. 2 overall choice in the 2012 draft when Indianapolis also lost.
What I liked: Both teams played aggressively to win. Even the interception St. Louis threw on an ill-fated trick play showed Spagnuolo wasn't going to go quietly in what could have been his final game. The 49ers adjusted to their personnel issues by making Vernon Davis a bigger part of the passing game. Davis topped 100 yards. The fake field goal they executed was brilliant for the way it tricked the Rams into overlooking Michael Crabtree's presence on the field as a wide receiver. The Rams, meanwhile, put up a great fight in coming back from a 27-10 deficit even though they lost Steven Jackson to injury. Kicker Josh Brown provided a perfect onside kick that the Rams recovered. Third-string quarterback Kellen Clemens found Brandon Lloyd for the touchdown that pulled St. Louis within 34-27. And the 49ers, though reeling in the final minutes, came through with the defensive play they needed when NaVorro Bowman sacked Clemens and knocked him from the game with a leg injury at the 2:46 mark.
What I didn't like: Rams rookie tight end Lance Kendricks showed great promise in training camp, but his regular-season struggles continued in this game. The pass Kendricks dropped near the first-down marker with 6:15 left in the first half left the Rams in a third-and-10 situation. They fumbled the snap on their next play, setting up the 49ers to stretch their lead from 17-7 to 20-7. The 49ers gave up a rushing touchdown for the second week in a row. Willis, playing for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury Dec. 4, could not get around Rams tight end Stephen Spach when Jackson broke through the line for a 27-yard gain. The injury to Clemens was horribly unfortunate, but also an indication of the protection problems the Rams have had all season. The 49ers' defense, though facing the most limited offense in the NFL, blew a chance to set a franchise record for lowest points per game allowed. They needed to allow 15 or fewer points to break the 1976 team's NFL-era franchise record. They needed to allow 13 or fewer points to break the all-time franchise record, set in the AAFC era.
What's next: The 49ers have a week off before playing in the NFC divisional playoff round. That game will be at Candlestick Park. The Rams hold the second overall choice in the 2012 NFL draft.