By: Apurv Baichwal
On this chilly Monday night in St. Louis, the 49ers travelled halfway across the country to play their division rival, the Rams. They started the game off slowly, allowing 14 unanswered points, but then they came back stronger than ever, scoring 24 of their own unanswered points. The 49ers outlasted the Rams after this huge comeback, finishing the game with an unequivocal 31-17 win. This win also brings the 49ers’ streak of Monday Night Football games won to seven, outscoring opponents 195-66, while the Rams have now lost six MNF games in a row, too.
My preview from Saturday, which you can read here, predicted a 24-10 win for the 49ers. The score differential was proved to be correct, but each team gained slightly more offense, and a touchdown each, more than I had thought they would. The 49ers gained this unpredicted touchdown on a pick six by a backup cornerback, Dontae Johnson, and the Rams gained their extra touchdown through some pretty stellar play early in the game from their rookie quarterback, Austin Davis. Otherwise, the game pretty much played out as predicted, although the scores came in an interesting order.
In the first quarter, the 49ers defense looked absolutely baffled by the Rams’ young offense. Austin Davis was completing huge plays down the field with great accuracy and precision, and the 49ers looked to have now way to stop them. Fortunately, about halfway through the second quarter, the spell seemed to break, and the 49ers that we are used to seeing came back. The defense started making plays, Austin Davis came back down to Earth and played like, well, a rookie, and the 49ers’ offense started churning, with Kaepernick making some of the his best throws of the season.
The 49ers got the benefit of a couple questionable pass interference penalties that earned them the ball, and put them in great field position to score some points.
In the middle of the second quarter, the 49ers managed to graze one of the Rams’ punts and make it only a 13-yarder. From here, they ran three plays unsuccessfully, then got their first points of the game on a Phil Dawson 54-yard field goal. Although it was not a pretty drive, the 49ers managed to put points on the board, shifting the momentum in their favor.
As the clock wound down in the second quarter, Brandon Lloyd, who has emerged as a freakishly athletic deep threat receiver for the 49ers, raced down the sideline, past the young safety guarding him, and got some separation deep. In a classic veteran vs. rookie showdown, Lloyd, the veteran, got the better of the rookie safety on the route, and Colin Kaepernick launched a beautiful bomb down the left sideline that Lloyd caught in stride, then proceeded to run into the end zone for a huge 80-yard touchdown. This touchdown marked the longest of the 49ers’ season, as they have not really been a deep-ball team. It also marked the culmination of multiple deep passes that Brandon Lloyd caught last week, and seems to seal him into the role of a deep threat that may even demand double coverage. Even further, this 80-yard touchdown was recorded with only 14 seconds remaining in the half, making it the longest touchdown pass with less than 15 seconds remaining in a half in the history of the NFL.
Here’s that catch to watch:
Although this stat is rather meaningless, it demonstrates how big of a game-changer this play was, right before halftime, as it is undeniably the play that sparked the 49ers’ come-from-behind win.
If one huge touchdown pass wasn’t enough for Kaepernick, he threw another one on the opening drive of the second half to maintain the huge momentum the 49ers’ had gained right before halftime. This touchdown was a beautiful 11-yarder to Anquan Boldin, where Kaepernick nearly got sacked, then rolled to his left to escape the blitz. Anquan Boldin, a strong and smart veteran receiver, read Kaepernick’s improvised bootleg, and faded back into the end zone, tracing Kaepernick’s progress to the left, and Kaepernick dropped a perfect pass right over the defender into Boldin’s waiting hands.
Here’s the play if you want to bask in the beauty of it:
Furthermore, if these two beautiful touchdown passes were not enough for Kaepernick, he threw a third to Michael Crabtree late in the third quarter. This one came on a shake and bake route that saw Crabtree break inside, then outside, then inside again, using his veteran prowess to shed the rookie cornerback off of him. This beautiful pass, that was really created by Crabtree’s stellar route running, went for 32 yards and Kaepernick’s third touchdown pass of the game.
You can watch this play as well, right here:
The Rams did manage to add a field goal late in the fourth quarter as they attempted to scramble for a late comeback, but the game was quickly sealed by the 49ers’ defense. As mentioned before, Dontae Johnson snagged a pick six to bring the final score to 31-17 and seal the 49ers’ win.
Ignoring the first quarter, the 49ers looked stellar Monday on both sides of the ball. Kaepernick threw for 343 yards, completing 22 of 36 passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also added 37 crucial yards with his legs, on three carries, that included two first downs. This passing performance was the second best of his career, based on total yardage. Interestingly enough, if you compare Kaepernick’s career numbers to the legendary ex-49er Steve Young’s numbers in his first 29 starts with the 49ers, you will see some eerie similarities.
Steve Young Colin Kaepernick
W-L 19-10 21-8
Passing Yards 6,113 6,261
Touchdowns-Interceptions 43-15 41-15
Rushing Yards 1,223 1,004
Let’s not jump to conclusions, but these numbers truly are similar, and maybe, just maybe the correlation has some deeper meaning.
Anquan Boldin has emerged as Kaepernick’s favorite and most trustworthy target, as he recorded seven catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Lloyd also had a great game, albeit completely reliant on his lone reception, the 80-yard touchdown catch. Stevie Johnson and Michael Crabtree each picked up about 50 yards apiece; these four receivers together make for an extremely strong group for Kaepernick to throw to. He has four targets who are all capable of 1,000 yard seasons, and all of whom have achieved this mark in past seasons. The only disappointing part of the passing game was Vernon Davis.
Davis looked rusty the whole game, coming off an injury, as he caused a false start penalty and dropped a pass all on the first drive. Through the game he looked slow, dropping another two passes, as he only caught three of six targets for 30 yards, an anomaly for the usually sure-handed tight end. Hopefully, he can shake off this rust, as he usually provides a menacing target for Kaepernick anywhere on the field, in short yardage situations or down the field. He will be vital in the future, as he has been in the past, and he should help keep the 49ers’ passing offense alive even if Kaepernick struggles.
The rushing attack was somewhat lackluster today, although the Rams do have a pretty solid run defense when they are playing up to par. Today, the rushing defense brought their a-game, which opened up holes for Kaepernick to pass into but limited Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde’s production. Gore only picked up 38 yards on 16 carries, and only had two carries of more than five yards. The rookie Hyde was worse, however, as he had multiple carries for negative yards, and got stuffed on the goal line two plays in a row, all working towards his final line of 14 yards on 11 carries. This game should just be a bump in the road for the 49ers’ usually strong rushing attack, as they are a rush-first team, and their passing game cannot always be as prolific as it was today.
Even with the rushing attack suffering, the 49ers won decisively today, even though they got off to a rocky start. This win makes their record 4-2, after winning three in a row, and it places them in second place in the NFC West. They are a half game up on the hated Seattle Seahawks, and trailing the division leading Arizona Cardinals by another half a game.
The 49ers play the 4-1 Denver Broncos next Sunday, in Denver, in a game that should be extremely close, where the 49ers are going to need a strong rushing attack, passing attack, and defense to win.
Cover Image: By BrokenSphere (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Stats Courtesy of NinersNation.com