Sunday, December 4, 2011
Rapid Reaction: 49ers 26, Rams 0
By Mike Sando
SAN FRANCISCO -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams following the 49ers' 26-0 victory at Candlestick Park in Week 13:
What it means: The 49ers clinched their first NFC West title since the 2002 season, ensuring a return to the postseason. They paid a high price when Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis suffered a hamstring injury that prevented him from continuing. Despite the lopsided final score, the 49ers have been sloppier over their past three games than they had been previously. They spent much of Sunday looking like a team that has plateaued and needs a spark despite a 10-2 record. The Rams' utter ineptitude was the 49ers' greatest ally. St. Louis played without quarterback Sam Bradford, both starting tackles, all their relevant cornerbacks and a long list of others. Their defense showed improvement against the run, but the team went backward overall -- not good for coach Steve Spagnuolo.
What I liked: The 49ers sought to attack down the field in the passing game. They were able to get receivers and tight ends open consistently, including when Alex Smith found Michael Crabtree for a 52-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. Receiver Kyle Williams showed good hands catching a high third-down pass. Williams also delivered a violent stiff-arm against Rams safety Quintin Mikell following a 25-yard gain on a running play. Smith completed 17 of 23 passes for 274 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a career-best NFL passer rating of 142.3. For the Rams, Chris Long collected at least one sack for a sixth consecutive game. The Rams' defensive tackles were active against the run, forcing the 49ers away from their running game.
What I didn't like: The 49ers continued to struggle in the red zone. Vernon Davis dropped a pass in the end zone. Davis also fumbled. Mindless penalties hurt the 49ers more than once, none worse than the one Dashon Goldson incurred for excessive celebration following an interception. Penalties for delay of game and false starts stunted drives when the game was still close in the first half. Smith, despite strong overall numbers, missed a wide-open Ted Ginn Jr. open on a deep route up the left sideline. The 49ers were flagged for holding on the play, anyway. Crabtree dropped a third-down pass early in the game. For the Rams, receiver Austin Pettis set an ominous tone by dropping a third-down pass to kill the team's opening drive. Danario Alexander could not hold onto a deep pass near the goal line, squandering a rare scoring opportunity for St. Louis.
Akers gets the record: David Akers set a 49ers franchise record for most made field-goal tries in a season. That was good for Akers, but also a reflection of the 49ers' continuing inefficiency in the red zone.
Gore assumes top spot: Frank Gore needed only 22 yards to pass Joe Perry as the 49ers' career rushing leader, not counting Perry's yardage gained in the All-America Football Conference. Gore assumed the top spot in the first half even though the Rams generally did a good job keeping him under control. He finished with 21 carries for 73 yards.
Streak continues: The 49ers still have not allowed a rushing touchdown this season.
What's next: The Rams visit the Seattle Seahawks for a Monday night game in Week 14. The 49ers visit the Arizona Cardinals.