NFL@L.A.: Steve Spagnuolo

Wrap-up: 49ers 34, Rams 27

January, 1, 2012
1/01/12
2:21
PM PT
Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams during their Week 17 game at the Edward Jones Dome, a 34-27 victory for San Francisco:

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.

Wrap-up: Cardinals 19, Rams 13 (OT)

November, 6, 2011
11/06/11
4:58
PM PT

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals following the Cardinals' 19-13 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 9:

What it means: Rookie Patrick Peterson is becoming a legend already after his 99-yard punt return for a touchdown gave the Cardinals an overtime victory. This was his third punt return for a touchdown in eight games and it came when the Cardinals were desperate for a victory. The last time they won, against Carolina in Week 1, his punt return score was the difference. In the bigger picture, this game hurts Arizona's chances for securing a higher choice in the draft, but the payoff was sweet for the Cardinals.

What I liked: Calais Campbell continued to demonstrate his value on the field-goal block team. His third career block made sure the game went to overtime. Campbell also dominated from his spot at right defensive end. The Cardinals got No. 2 receiver Andre Roberts more involved in the offense. Adrian Wilson made an aggressive play in the Rams' backfield to foil a third-and-1 rushing attempt, forcing the Rams to settle for a field goal and a 6-3 lead. Arizona's John Skelton made a good touch pass to Larry Fitzgerald for the tying 13-yard touchdown in the final five minutes. ... Sam Bradford toughed it out on his sprained ankle, a starting point in his return to the Rams' lineup. Steven Jackson continued his physical running and topped 100 yards on the ground for the second week in a row. He has at least 96 yards in three of his last four games and at least 70 in all four. Rams rookie Greg Salas caught seven passes. Rams safety Darian Stewart was again active, getting a hand on passes well down the field.

What I didn't like: Skelton became the first NFL player since Aaron Rodgers in 2008 to take two safeties in the same game. Both were avoidable. Both were costly in a low-scoring game dominated by defense. The Cardinals had 58 yards and four first downs in the first half. Beanie Wells did not appear healthy and had a hard time getting anything going against the Rams' defense. Bradford took too many sacks. Salas suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury and was carted off the field. Later, medical personnel carted off Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams after a scary collision that appeared to put his head and neck area in jeopardy. Peterson continued having problems with penalties, including with the game on the line.

Controversial call: The Rams went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Arizona 33 with 1:48 remaining and did not get it. They were within range for a 51-yard field-goal attempt. Their kicker, Josh Brown, had made all three attempts Sunday (48, 37, 41 yards). Brown had made 15 of 19 tries from 50-plus yards since signing with the Rams. Field conditions in Arizona appeared excellent. Yes, Jackson was running well, but that was partly because the Rams had done a good job mixing up their play calls. Arizona knew what was coming in this situation. The fact that Arizona blocked the Rams' field-goal try later in the game doesn't validate Steve Spagnuolo's decision.

What's next: The Cardinals face the Eagles in Kevin Kolb's return to Philadelphia. The Rams visit Cleveland.

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TEAM LEADERS

PASSING
Philip Rivers
ATT COMP YDS TD
544 378 4478 32
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
R. Mathews 285 1255 4.4 6
D. Woodhead 106 429 4.0 2
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
K. Allen 71 1046 14.7 8
A. Gates 77 872 11.3 4