NFL Nation: Greg Zuerlein

LANDOVER, Md. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the St. Louis Rams' 24-0 victory against the Washington Redskins:

Zuerlein's rough day: Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein missed an extra point and two short field goals in the first half, leaving the Rams with just a 6-0 lead going into the locker room. He rebounded slightly in the second half by making an extra point and a 34-yard field goal, but all of his kicks seemed to drift to the right. However, Fisher gave Zuerlein a vote of confidence in a unique way after the game.

"I want you all to know that in our closed door locker room there, I had Johnny Hekker hold the ball and put the ball down and Greg hit the locker, and that’s what he was aiming for," Fisher said. "So he’s OK. Greg is going to be fine, OK."

Fisher's funny: Before the game, the Rams had an unusual group of players handling the coin toss duties. Receiver Stedman Bailey, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, running back Zac Stacy, left tackle Greg Robinson and linebacker Alec Ogletree represented the team as coin toss captains, a departure from the standard group. But there was a method to coach Jeff Fisher madness. Those six players are the ones on the team's active roster acquired with picks from the team's trade with Washington in 2012. Two others, running back Isaiah Pead and lineman Rokevious Watkins, are not on the current 53-man roster.

Moving on: Fisher barely allowed much time for his team to enjoy Sunday's win, making it clear that the normal 24-hour rule is not in effect this week. The Rams play the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night. I asked linebacker James Laurinaitis if there's a 24-minute rule and he said there's not even a 12-minute rule. The Rams will watch the film of Sunday's win tonight and even start getting into Arizona before Sunday night turns into Monday morning.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein missed the team's Friday practice because of the flu. Two days later, he missed a 38-yard field goal and mishit a kickoff that led to a 99-yard touchdown for Chiefs returner Knile Davis.

"No matter what, if you’re going to be in this you still have to come out and perform and do your job," Zuerlein said. "There’s no excuses for mishits or missing field goals or anything like that. How sick I was is irrelevant."

[+] EnlargeGreg Zuerlein
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsGreg Zuerlein's kicking woes contributed to the Rams' blowout loss to the Chiefs on Sunday.
What wasn't irrelevant in the Rams' 34-7 loss to the Chiefs were the two big miscues that came off Zuerlein's right foot.

Midway through the second quarter, the Rams had just missed an opportunity to score a touchdown to take a 14-7 lead after getting a fumble recovery at Kansas City's 8. But Zuerlein trotted onto the field with the chance to at least knock a short field goal through the uprights to give the team a three-point lead.

That surely beat the alternative but the alternative is exactly what the Rams got as Zuerlein left the kick wide right from the right hash.

"I think I just didn’t hit it solid," Zuerlein said. "Basically that’s all it was. I rushed at the ball a little bit and didn’t get my plant foot set properly. If that doesn’t get right then the leg swing is not going to be proper and you saw the results."

The result was a field goal for the Chiefs and a six-point swing which manifested into something much worse when Zuerlein failed to execute the opening kickoff of the second half.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher and special-teams coach John Fassel called for that kickoff to go deep and to the left side. But Zuerlein mishit the kick and it didn't get much hang time, leaving plenty of room for Davis to scoop it up and take off down the right sideline. By the time Davis was done running, he had a 99-yard touchdown, the Chiefs had a 17-7 lead and were well on their way to 34 unanswered points and a blowout victory.

"It was a bad kick," Fisher said. "We were trying to get a deep left kick and he just shanked it and they got off and running. I haven’t seen it. Usually when that happens, you are going to get potentially a hold or two but it’s uncharacteristic of our cover team not to make that play. But that was a key play. It’s what they needed to win this game. We didn’t get that."

The mishit kickoff and the missed field goal are part of a disturbing trend for Zuerlein, who just two years ago was considered one of the most dangerous young kickers in the league as he converted his first 15 field goal attempts. But since Week 6 of 2012, he's 44-of-57 on field goal attempts, a 77.2 percent conversion rate. He only missed two field goals in 2013 but both came at the most inopportune times in losses to Seattle and Tennessee.

So far this season, Zuerlein is 8-of-11 on field goal tries. And though two of those misses have come from 50-plus yards, his ability to make long kicks was a big part of his appeal in the first place. He's made just five of his past 14 attempts from 50 yards or further.

It's not time to give up on Zuerlein just yet -- a 27-point loss certainly isn't all his fault -- but if his struggles continue, it's fair to wonder how much longer his leash extends.

 
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams have made a habit of starting as the hare and ending as the tortoise in 2014, but for all of those slow finishes, many of them can be directly linked to a series of missed opportunities.

After the Rams' 34-7 blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon, the 2-5 Rams appear headed down the path to another disastrous season.

And there will be no sequence of plays that better sums up this year's team so far than what happened midway through the second quarter of Sunday's loss.

In a 7-7 game with the ball at Kansas City's 8-yard line after a fumble recovery by defensive end William Hayes, the Rams somehow managed to come away with no points. Not a touchdown, not a field goal, nothing. Instead of at least a 3-point Rams' lead, Kansas City got the ball back and promptly drove for a field goal of its own.

It was a six-point swing that turned more painful as the Chiefs rattled off the next 24 points of the game. They scored all 34 of their points after the Rams' opening touchdown.

"We clearly got outplayed the second half of this game in all three phases," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "It probably started before half when we had the turnover, got sacked, got no points and then gave up points. So this team is going to have to learn to play consistent through 60 minutes."

Really, the most consistent thing about this Rams team is the repeated use of that final sentence. Talk of finishing a game, playing a full 60 minutes and other such cliches are staples around the St. Louis locker room, yet nothing seems to change -- with rare exceptions like last week's win against Seattle mixed in.

Sunday's failure came at all levels, but the steamroller didn't really fire up until after the missed second-quarter chance.

The Rams' offense had put together an impressive opening drive for a touchdown, and though it hadn't scored since, had at least moved the ball. On first down from the Chiefs' 8, running back Tre Mason ran up the middle for 1 yard. On second down, the Chiefs blanketed a Rams receiver corps as pressure came through the Rams' struggling offensive line and forced quarterback Austin Davis to scramble for a yard.

Third down is when things really took a turn for the worse as Davis felt pressure, escaped the pocket to the right and instead of throwing the ball away or hanging in the pocket to find receiver Chris Givens in the back of the end zone, took a 14-yard sack.

"That was a big point in the game," Davis said. "Obviously you get the big turnover. At minimum, you’ve got to come away with three, but, really, you need to score a touchdown. I’ve got to throw it away. We’re even closer and it would have been more of a chip shot for Greg so I have got to do a better job of throwing the football away and managing the situation. You get the field goal and everyone feels a little bit better. Those types of plays are critical in a close game, as it was at that point."

In fairness, Davis had thrown a touchdown earlier in the game on a similar play when he rolled out and found tight end Lance Kendricks in the back of the end zone. Taking a sack isn't a good play but it still left kicker Greg Zuerlein a 38-yard chip shot. Or so it seemed.

Zuerlein, who has developed a knack for missing kicks at crucial times, said he rushed the kick and didn't set his plant foot properly.

"Anytime you go out there they expect you to make the field goal, obviously you should, being that close," Zuerlein said.

Once again, there are a lot of simple enough things the Rams should be able to do to help them win games. They're the things that winning teams do and losing teams don't. And for as long as the Rams don't do them, they'll continue to get the same result.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the St. Louis Rams' 34-7 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs:

Long
Walking wounded: For much of Sunday's game, it seemed the Rams couldn't go without suffering an injury every couple of plays. By the time the day was done, the Rams lost center Scott Wells (elbow), offensive tackle Jake Long (knee), guard Rodger Saffold (shoulder), receiver Brian Quick (arm) and safeties Cody Davis (concussion) and Rodney McLeod (knee). None returned after departing, and end William Hayes also left the locker room on crutches.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher offered no specific updates on any of the players but acknowledged that some of the injured would "miss some time."

Mishit kick: Fisher said kicker Greg Zuerlein's short kickoff to open the second half was a result of a mishit ball. The ball was not supposed to be a line drive. Instead, it was supposed to be high and angled to the left corner. But Zuerlein didn't hit it as he was supposed to and Kansas City returner Knile Davis took it 99 yards for a touchdown. Fisher also expressed disappointment in Zuerlein's miss on a 38-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter.

Governor's appearance: There has been speculation about the Rams' future in St. Louis, and some of that has centered on the efforts of Gov. Jay Nixon to help keep the team in the state. Nixon was spotted walking through the corridor near the Rams locker room after the game.

Rams-Bears: Matchup breakdown

November, 23, 2013
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ST. LOUIS – A look at three individual matchups to watch in Sunday’s game between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears.

Long
Rams left tackle Jake Long vs. Bears defensive end Julius Peppers

A couple years ago this might have been one of the premiere individual battles you could find anywhere in the NFL. Make no mistake, Long and Peppers are still very good players but they might not be at the level they once were.

Still, this is one of the most important matchups in this game. Peppers’ combination of speed and athleticism remains even if the numbers aren’t jumping off the page as they once did.

“He’s a great player, day in and day out,” Long said. “He’s got such long arms, he’s got power, he’s got speed to take down the edge, so it’s a good battle to go up against him. I’m excited. It’s going to be fun.”

Through the first 10 games, Peppers has posted 29 tackles, four sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception returned for a touchdown.

Long has struggled against elite rushers this year, particularly with Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Ware, a player not unlike Peppers in terms of size and skill set. But Long has also been much better in the past month or so since the Rams switched to a more run-heavy attack.

If the Rams can get the run game going – an area Long can help jump start – it should allow for the Rams to keep Peppers off balance and Long to dictate the matchup.

Jenkins
Rams cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson vs. Bears receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall

There’s no receiver combination in the league more physically imposing than Jeffery and Marshall. That duo has caused nightmares for opposing defenses with its ability to outjump and outmuscle opposing corners for the ball.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall has 64 catches for 828 yards and eight touchdowns this season while the 6-3, 216-pound Jeffery has 54 catches for 818 yards and three touchdowns.

There isn’t a cornerback duo in the league equipped to match Marshall and Jeffery in terms of sheer size.

“It’s a matchup issue,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “They’re very, very talented. Both quarterbacks Jay [Cutler], obviously was playing well before he went down, but Josh [McCown] does a really good job putting the ball up to them. They’ve got confidence. These guys can outjump and outreach. We’ve got a battle on our hands, but our corners … ‘Jenks’ is a leaper and ‘Tru’s' got length, so we’ll just see how it goes.”

At 5-10, 198 pounds, Jenkins is the smaller of the Rams’ options and must be on top of his game in terms of timing his leap. He’s had mixed success in those situations this year but hasn’t faced a challenge of this size just yet.

Johnson has improved in 2013 and at 6-2, 208 pounds is more suited to take on players like Marshall and Jeffery.

The Rams have been more aggressive in coverage in recent weeks, playing more press coverage at the line of scrimmage. That may be the best way to keep the Bears duo from winning jump balls. A good jam at the line of scrimmage can throw off timing and allow the Rams defensive line to get after McCown before he can get the ball down the field.

Hester
Rams punter Johnny Hekker and kicker Greg Zuerlein vs. Bears returner Devin Hester

Rams fans still have nightmares about Hester’s game in St. Louis in 2006 when he returned two kicks for touchdowns.

Much has changed in terms of Hester’s role since then as he no longer contributes much to the offense and has even been in the mix as a cornerback. But he remains Chicago’s primary returner with a strong kick return average of 28.23 yards and 13.25 yards per punt return to go with a touchdown.

“He’s not playing any offense, but he’s still very, very dangerous,” Fisher said. “I think, considering the fact that his role on offense has been reduced or limited, he’s going to be more inclined to bringing the ball out and has that desire to make plays. So, it makes him very dangerous and they’ve always had great confidence in him.”

The onus falls on Hekker and Zuerlein to help neutralize the player who is probably the most dangerous returner in league history.

Hekker has been as good as any punter in the league so far in 2013, leading the league in net punting with an average of 43.51 yards.

Zuerlein hasn’t yielded much in the way of returns, either, averaging 65.88 yards per kickoff, fifth most in the league. The coverage units have been good in this regard, too, as Rams opponents have started an average of 80.4 yards from the end zone on their drives, second furthest away in the league.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 8

October, 29, 2013
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ST. LOUIS -- A review of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 14-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

The final sequence: Much to the credit of quarterback Kellen Clemens and the Rams offense, they put together an impressive drive on the game's final possession. A drive that started at their 3 put them within a yard of a game-winning touchdown and a play to pull off the upset in regulation. The final drive had proved to be a clinic on run-pass balance with seven called runs and six called passes (one was nullified by a Seattle penalty). All of those play calls had worked well and the continued use of the run game had Seattle off balance. It all made sense. Until the final play. On fourth-and-goal at the 1, the Rams called for a pass that coach Jeff Fisher said was designed to give Clemens multiple options while getting the ball out of his hand fast. Running back Zac Stacy was injured earlier in the quarter but had run twice on the drive for 26 yards. After getting his sprained ankle rewrapped, there was some confusion on the sideline on third down. He entered on fourth down, though, and it looked like at the very least he could serve as a decoy. Instead, the Rams split him out wide, leaving no threat of the run in the backfield with Clemens against a blitzing Seattle defense which sold out to get after the quarterback. From there, Clemens' read was to throw what amounts to a touch pass to receiver Brian Quick in the corner of the end zone. It fell incomplete and the Rams lost, leaving many Rams fans still scratching their heads.

[+] EnlargeZac Stacy
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesZac Stacy rushed for 134 yards in Monday night's loss to the Seahawks.
A big miss: It's probably unfair to put much of the blame for Monday night's loss on Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein. Zuerlein had been perfect entering the game and already had been good on all three of his field goal tries. But when he offered up his first miss of the season -- a 50-yarder that doubled as his longest try of the year -- you couldn't help but feel it would be costly. As it turned out, Zuerlein's miss was crippling because the offense proved incapable of scoring a touchdown to overtake Seattle on that final drive. Had Zuerlein connected on the 50-yarder, the Rams would have had a chip shot to win it on the final drive.

Stacy's the guy: Entering Monday night's game, Stacy's early success had come into question because it came against porous run defenses such as Jacksonville and Houston. With the help of an offensive line that was blowing Seattle's sixth-ranked run defense off the ball, Stacy erased all doubt Monday night. Known for getting yards after contact, Stacy had big enough holes most of the night that he was able to rely on his vision and balance more than ever as he recorded 90 of his 134 rushing yards before contact. For the Rams' sake, they better hope Stacy's ankle injury isn't anything serious because he's really settling into a groove.

Defense isn't enough: The Rams defense put on a show Monday night, racking up seven sacks and holding Seattle to 135 yards and seven first downs. Take away the 80-yard touchdown by Golden Tate and it was nearly a flawless performance from that group. That's what makes the loss that much harder to swallow. Seattle became the first team since the 2010 Miami Dolphins to win a game while posting 135 yards or less and seven or fewer first downs in a game. That's what happens when you are minus-2 in the turnover battle and fail to score a touchdown on four trips into the red zone.

Locker Room Buzz: St. Louis Rams

September, 8, 2013
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ST. LOUIS -- Observed in the locker room after the Rams’ 27-24 victory against Arizona.

A long way to go: Make no mistake; the Rams were pleased to come away with a win, especially after trailing by 11 in the fourth quarter. To a man, though, everyone in the locker room agreed with this assessment from coach Jeff Fisher: “We have a long, long way to go,” Fisher said. “There’s a lot of areas we have to address but most of those were self-inflicted wounds."

Many mistakes: Speaking of self-inflicted wounds, the Rams were not pleased with their miscues in Sunday’s victory. The penalty problems of the preseason carried over as the Rams drew seven flags for 59 yards.

A winning habit: Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein booted his second game-winning field goal at the Edward Jones Dome in the past three games the team has played at home. The unflappable Zuerlein is so calm his teammates expressed no surprise that he stepped up and kicked the game-winning 48-yard field goal.

VIPs: The Rams had no shortage of very important people in the locker room after the game. Owner Stan Kroenke checked in and former NFL coaches Marty Schottenheimer and Jim Fassel stopped in to visit with their sons Brian and John, both of whom are on the Rams’ staff.


The St. Louis Rams' Greg Zuerlein connected on all 13 field goal tries, including four from 50-plus yards, during his first five NFL games. He made 10 of 18 tries from that point forward, missing six of nine kicks from at least 50 yards.

Some of the misses were from unreasonable distances, but the pattern was pretty clear. That is why John Fassel, the Rams' special-teams coach, advised Zuerlein to spend much of his offseason resting. Zuerlein, who had kicked almost nonstop from college through the pro evaluation process and into his 2012 rookie season, did not kick for three months during the recently completed offseason. The idea was for Zuerlein to gain strength so he could remain more consistent throughout his second season.

Fortunately for us, Zuerlein, punter Johnny Hekker and snapper Jake McQuaide did participate in one of those "Dude Perfect" trick-shot videos. Hekker is the star of the show, but Zuerlein also makes an appearance, at one point banking a field goal try off a basketball backboard and through the hoop.

"I was out here while they were filming it," Fassel told reporters Sunday, "and it took them a couple hours, and every single one you see is legit -- no trick photography. The one off the roof 70 yards into the pool was ridiculous."

Some of the shots took about 20 takes to execute, Fassel estimated, a figure he considered amazingly low given the level of difficulty.
The Seattle Seahawks have announced Steven Hauschka's re-signing with the team.

The veteran kicker could still face competition in training camp from a drafted rookie, rookie free agent or even from another veteran.



But with Hauschka under contract, every team in the NFC West has a kicking option on its roster.

The chart at right shows field-goal percentages over the past five years for veteran and rookie kickers. The percentages are similar. Some kickers face tougher circumstances based on variables such as distance, venue, weather and situations. But in looking at the percentages overall, teams might feel better about going young at the position.

The chart below shows 2012 field-goal percentages for current NFC West kickers Phil Dawson (San Francisco 49ers), Jay Feely (Arizona Cardinals), Greg Zuerlein (St. Louis Rams), Hauschka and David Akers, formerly of the 49ers.

Hauschka suffered an injury during the playoffs last season. The team signed Ryan Longwell on a short-term basis.



The chart below shows which NFC West unrestricted free agents have signed this offseason. The list does not include players who were released or otherwise did not qualify for UFA status.

Phil Dawson's contract agreement with the San Francisco 49ers, announced by Dawson via Twitter, gives the team a veteran kicker to replace David Akers.

Dawson has made 14 of 15 tries from 50-plus yards over the past two seasons. He has made 13 of 14 tries from 40 to 49 yards over that span.

Akers, possibly diminished after undergoing hernia surgery, made 9 of 19 tries from 40 yards or longer last season. The 49ers reaped savings under the salary cap by releasing him this offseason.

Dawson turned 38 in January. While his addition does not preclude the 49ers from using one of their league-high 14 draft choices to add competition at the position, Dawson would be a heavy favorite to emerge as the 49ers' kicker in 2013 based on his credentials.

Dawson ranked 25th in kickoff touchback rate (39 percent) last season, lower than Akers (46.0) and the NFL average (44.1). Weather could have been a factor some of the time. Dawson had 14 kickoffs when the listed temperature was below 40 degrees, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That figure ranked tied for third-most in the NFL behind Mason Crosby (25) and Josh Brown (17).

Dawson has made 9 of 10 field-goal tries over the past three seasons when the temperature was beneath 40. That included his lone attempt from 50-plus yards.

Brad Seely, the 49ers' special-teams coach, was with Dawson in Cleveland previously.

Rookie kickers have made 86.7 percent of field goal attempts over the past five seasons. Veteran kickers have made 83 percent over the same period.

That is something to keep in mind when wondering what veteran kicker the San Francisco 49ers might pursue after releasing David Akers this week.

While the 49ers likely will sign a veteran, they should consider using one of their league-high 12 draft choices -- a total expected to rise when the NFL distributes compensatory selections -- for the best rookie kicker they can find.

Those percentages for rookies versus veterans say as much.

Of course, field goal percentages aren't everything because all attempts aren't created equal, even when from the same distance. It's also possible an aversion to trusting rookie kickers has removed from the pool all but the exceptional ones, distorting comparisons to a broader field of veteran kickers.

But that 86.7 percent success rate should get the 49ers' attention as they seek low-cost alternatives to an acclaimed veteran such as Akers, whose 69 percent success rate ranked 34th out of 36 qualifying kickers last season.

Minnesota's Blair Walsh (92.1 percent), Baltimore's Justin Tucker (90.9) and St. Louis' Greg Zuerlein (74.2) combined to make 86.3 percent as the only rookies to attempt field goals last season.

Filtering for venue and distance, I noticed that rookies made 29 of 42 (69 percent) field goal tries since 2008 when kicking outdoors on natural grass from longer than 40 yards. Veterans made 621 of 913 (68 percent).

The results cited here are far from conclusive, which is the point. A rookie kicker might not be a bad option for the 49ers.

Phil Dawson, Rob Bironas, Nate Kaeding, Lawrence Tynes, Nick Folk, Josh Brown, Mike Nugent, Jason Hanson, Ryan Longwell, Shayne Graham, Olindo Mare and Nick Novak are among the veterans without contracts for 2013. Check out our Free Agent Tracker Insider for ranks of kickers Insider and all free agents.
Recent pieces from Adam Schefter and Mel Kiper Jr. Insider have focused attention on some of the strongest decisions NFC West teams made during the 2012 NFL draft.

With Kiper's 2012 draft re-grade in mind, I've put together a list showing the NFC West rookie draft choices providing the most value relative to draft status, at least in my view.

I've ruled out players drafted in the first two rounds, figuring those players should produce relatively early in their careers. I've ruled out special-teams players, figuring teams can find those throughout the draft. And I've ruled out mid-round picks contributing as backups, figuring those players should contribute as backups.

We're left with eight players, four of them drafted by the Seattle Seahawks, three by the St. Louis Rams and two by the Arizona Cardinals. The San Francisco 49ers did not need their rookies as much this season.

St. Louis' Trumaine Johnson arguably should be on the list. He made three starts and picked off two passes as a third-round choice. In the end, that seemed reasonable for a player drafted 65th overall. Johnson's teammate, kicker Greg Zuerlein, would lead any list of special-teams draft choices in the division.

I left off the Cardinals' Ryan Lindley even though he became Arizona's starting quarterback as a sixth-round choice. Lindley exceeded expectations in becoming a starter. However, he had zero touchdown passes and seven interceptions while ranking last in Total QBR (9.8) among the 43 quarterbacks with at least 50 pass attempts during the regular season.

Fantastic finish? Rams, 49ers cannot decide

November, 12, 2012
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Danny AmendolaAP Photo/Jeff ChiuOn the first play of OT, Danny Amendola hauled in what would have been an 80-yard pass. The play was called back for an illegal formation.

SAN FRANCISCO -- There were so many compelling stories waiting to be written on this confounding November Sunday at Candlestick Park.

We'll have to settle for all of them.

The San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams made it so, with a few assists from referee Clete Blakeman and his proactive officiating crew.

This 24-24 tie did more than fittingly push the all-time series record between the teams to 61-61-3 during regular seasons.

This one also reestablished the Rams' credentials as a newly competitive team under first-year coach Jeff Fisher.

It challenged San Francisco's status as NFC West bullies, serving notice, again, that the NFC West has become the sticks-and-stones division, to borrow a favorite phrase from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

It left the Rams at 3-5-1 while weakening the 49ers (6-2-1) heading into their "Monday Night Football" matchup against the Chicago Bears in Week 11.

It opened the door, at least a little, for Seattle (6-4) to push for a division title, not just for a wild-card berth.

Mostly, this game boggled the mind.

"I don't know exactly how it feels," Harbaugh said.

It didn't feel good.

"We didn't lose, but we didn't win, and if we didn't win, then I'm not really interested in it," Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said.

There was so much evidence to process.

There was Rams quarterback Sam Bradford putting together the signature drive of his three-year-old career, a 14-play march to the go-ahead touchdown with 1:13 left in regulation. This was Bradford at his best. When the game was finally finished, he had completed 11 of 12 attempts to Danny Amendola and 26 of 39 overall.

"Big-picture wise, we scored points and we needed to score points," Fisher said. "We've been struggling to get the ball in the end zone and we got the ball in the end zone against a good defense."

There was Amendola returning from a nasty shoulder injury to make what would have been -- and perhaps what should have been, depending upon your view of Blakeman's crew -- the pivotal 80-yard reception in overtime. Officials flagged the Rams' illegal formation. Replays showed the call might have been correct, but officials threw the flag well after the fact and well down the field, and only after conferencing. Strange and anti-climactic.

"It was a roller coaster," Rams defensive end Chris Long said. "I feel like we won two games, maybe lost one and tied one today. It was unbelievable. I've never been a part of anything like that. I don't know how to think."

There was more, including young 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick coming off the bench for a concussed Alex Smith to rally his team into position for what would have been the winning 41-yard field goal in overtime, had David Akers not missed wide left. The 49ers thought Smith suffered the concussion on a fourth-and-1 sneak. They cannot be sure how long Smith will miss, but they're a lesser team in the short term without him, no question.

Kaepernick can run, but can he run the offense? He struggled with accuracy under admittedly tough conditions. Smith had been getting all the meaningful reps recently as the 49ers successfully recommitted to their regular offense.

"They lost their quarterback, but obviously their backup is talented enough to not lose the game for them," Fisher said.

As endorsements goes, that one felt like a tie.

There was also Rams rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein driving home what would have been -- and perhaps should have been, depending again upon one's view of officiating norms -- the winning 52-yard field goal some 12 minutes into overtime. We could fault the Rams for entrusting a rookie holder, Johnny Hekker, with clock management in such a situation. But this also seemed like a strange time to enforce the game clock to what seemed like a stricter standard than usual.

Zuerlein missed from 58.

"There shouldn't be a question as to whether or not you get a field goal off to win in overtime," Fisher said. "Apparently, Johnny lost track of the time. That happens. We don't want to say it's OK -- it's certainly not OK -- but he was focused on Greg and focused on protection and just lost track of it, I guess."

Hekker, a free agent the Rams signed in part for his arm, completed two fourth-down passes on fake punts, one from his own end zone and the other during that 14-play scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Hekker, empowered by Fisher to audible if the opponent rushes a cornerback at the expense of coverage, did just that with the first-half clock winding down and the Rams facing fourth-and-4 from their own 10. He later completed a fourth-and-8 pass to tight end Lance Kendricks for a 19-yard gain.

Late last season, the 49ers outfoxed the Rams in devastating fashion, Akers completing a pass to Michael Crabtree on a fake field goal when St. Louis didn't even know Crabtree was on the field.

The fake punts Sunday told us those days are over.

"The first one, we were trying to block the punt before the half," Harbaugh said. "We sent our corner. They can throw a pass when they see that, and that takes a lot of gumption to do it, and they did it. The second one, again, was well-executed on their part. Tough break for us to get that done on us, but tip your hat to them."

So much had happened by game's end that some players couldn't recall specifics.

Bradford could only smile and shrug when asked about the timeout St. Louis had called with 1:13 left in regulation. The Rams followed that timeout with Bradford's 2-yard scoring pass to Austin Pettis for a 24-21 lead, but the clock stoppage gave the 49ers sufficient time to respond.

Kaepernick, taking over at his own 22 with 1:03 to play, scrambled for 19 yards on first down. The clock stopped again on the next play when Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson suffered an injury. Kaepernick followed with a 10-yard scramble and a 13-yard pass to Kyle Williams. Five seconds remained when David Akers’ 33-yard field goal forced overtime.

The Rams didn't seem to care.

Bradford went deep for Amendola on the first play of overtime. Amendola separated from Carlos Rogers while the ball was in the air. He caught the ball at the San Francisco 45 and ran all the way to the 2 before Donte Whitner finally tackled him.

The game was only beginning -- again.

Each team would possess the ball two additional times before time ran out with St. Louis completing a 24-yard pass to near midfield. The Rams faced third-and-23 on the play after taking an 8-yard sack and a 5-yard penalty for delay.

The sack was particularly costly. It was also frustrating, at least for the Rams. They had first-and-10 from their own 38 with 24 seconds remaining. A couple more completed passes might have moved them into range for another field-goal try. Zuerlein has made five from 50-plus yards, including one from 60. But the Rams couldn't stop the pass-rush combination that New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride had so famously complained about.

Left guard Shelley Smith wouldn't say much about it, but Saffold overheard the questioning and nodded from his stool at the adjoining locker. The nod suggested Saffold felt as though Justin Smith, the 49ers' All-Pro defensive end, had held Shelley Smith to give teammate Aldon Smith a clearer path to the quarterback -- just as Gilbride had said the 49ers did with regularity, and in violation of holding rules.

"Justin Smith did a real good job of faking the rush and being able to grab him," Saffold said. "That allowed Aldon Smith to get around. You try to collapse it down so they'll run into each other and slow down the rush, and we were able to do that maybe three or four times, but a couple times where [Shelley Smith] needs to be firm and I need to get depth, it's harder to pass off some of the run-play action that we saw."

That's a lot of Smiths -- Shelley, Aldon and Justin, to say nothing of Alex -- and a lot to sort out. Confused? So were some of the players.

"I didn't know you could tie," 49ers free safety Dashon Goldson said. "When I saw both sides walking onto the field, I was like, ‘Where’s everybody going?'"

There was no winning or losing locker room to visit, just a lot of mixed emotions.

"I'm pissed," Long said. "We're all pissed in here because we feel like we won that game. They played a really good game, too, and they are a really good team.

"But I think we're going to see a lot of those battles for years to come here because we are a different team now. I think they know that from playing us now."

John Clayton's midseason All-Pro team

November, 7, 2012
11/07/12
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San Francisco 49ers fans periodically ask when the team's 2012 draft class might begin contributing on the field.

Like other top teams, the 49ers drafted late in the order. Their roster was already quite strong. That combination has made it tougher for the 49ers' rookies to earn playing time. It doesn't necessarily mean their draft choices are falling short. It just means they're not playing yet.

With an assist from Hank Garguilo of ESPN Stats & Information, I've put together charts showing games played, games started and offensive/defensive snap counts for every 2012 NFC West draft choice through Week 6.

The 49ers are the only team in the league with zero snaps from their 2012 class. The 6-0 Atlanta Falcons' draft choices have played 25 snaps, the second-lowest total. The 30 remaining teams have gotten at least 215 snaps and an average of more than 700.

Seattle ranks fifth with 1,092 snaps from 2012 draft choices, followed immediately by St. Louis at 988. Arizona ranks 14th with 806. Right tackle Bobby Massie has played 424 of those, more than any team has gotten from its fourth-round choices. Seattle leads the league in snaps from seventh-rounders while ranking second in snaps from third-rounders. The Rams are second in snaps from second- and seventh-rounders.

Arizona Cardinals

Quick notes: Michael Floyd is getting work as the fourth receiver. He had a 24-yard reception Sunday. He has seven catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. ... Massie is getting valuable experience. He's been a liability in pass protection against some opponents. That was to be expected. ... Cornerback Jamell Fleming's playing time has fluctuated based on Greg Toler's availability. ... Ryan Lindley becomes the No. 2 quarterback behind John Skelton now that Kevin Kolb is injured. The team could conceivably re-sign Rich Bartel in the future. The Cardinals do like Lindlely's potential, however.

Seattle Seahawks

Quick notes: Bruce Irvin has 4.5 sacks, including one to help preserve a victory at Carolina. ... Second-round choice Bobby Wagner has provided a significant upgrade at middle linebacker. He opened the season as a starter and member of the base defense. His has become an every-down player over the past two weeks, with positive results, including when he ran down Cam Newton for a loss. ... Russell Wilson owns two fourth-quarter comeback victories in his first six starts, two more than Seattle managed last season. He is the first rookie since the 1970 merger to throw winning touchdown passes in the final two minutes of two games. ... Robert Turbin's speed and power have impressed. ... J.R. Sweezy impressed in camp and started the opener, but he wasn't ready. ... Greg Scruggs is healthy again and figuring into the pass-rush rotation.

San Francisco 49ers

Quick notes: Trenton Robinson has played on special teams, but he has been inactive recently. A.J. Jenkins has been active without playing. The 49ers have established players ahead of him at wide receiver. They also use two backs and/or two tight ends frequently, diminishing opportunities for wideouts to get on the field. Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and Randy Moss are competing for those limited snaps. ... LaMichael James' arrival provided incentive for Kendall Hunter, who has met the challenge. Might there be a role for James later in the season? So far, the 49ers haven't even activated veteran Brandon Jacobs. ... Joe Looney projects as a potential future starter at guard, but there might not be an opening if Alex Boone continues playing well. Boone seized the job while Looney was recovering from foot surgery. ... Darius Fleming suffered a knee injury and remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. ... The team released sixth-rounder Jason Slowey. ... Seventh-rounder Cam Johnson is on the practice squad.

St. Louis Rams

Quick notes: First-round defensive tackle Michael Brockers has recovered from an ankle injury well enough to become a big part of the Rams improving run defense. ... Brian Quick made a key reception over the middle to help the Rams beat the Seahawks, but fourth-rounder Chris Givens has made a bigger impact among the Rams' rookie wideouts. Givens has a reception of at least 50 yards in each of the Rams' last three games. That is a first for any NFL rookie since Willie Gault in 1983. ... Janoris Jenkins has been a playmaker at cornerback all season. He suffered a significant lapse in coverage at Miami, but overall, Jenkins has shined. ... Fifth-rounder Rokevious Watkins reported out of shape and landed on injured reserve. ... Sixth-rounder Greg Zuerlein has transformed the Rams' offense with his extended field-goal range, although he struggled some in Week 6. ... Seventh-rounder Daryl Richardson has a 5.2-yard average per carry and 246 yards rushing. He has won playing time from second-rounder Isaiah Pead, who has not been a factor.

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