San Francisco 49ers: Winners and Losers from the Game vs. St. Louis Rams
The San Francisco 49ers came into their Week 10 matchup with the St. Louis Rams with a 6-2 record, leading the NFC West. The Rams entered this contest at 3-5, already surpassing their entire win total from 2011.
The concern was that the 49ers would come into this game flat because of the bye week and looking ahead to their game next week against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.
However, one thing I have noticed with the 49ers under head coach Jim Harbaugh is when they have extra time to prepare, they usually play very well. Unfortunately, this week it simply didn't happen.
Whether the extra week off was a factor is pure speculation, but the 49ers came out and were manhandled early by the Rams. St. Louis marched up and down the field to take a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
The 49ers then gained the momentum when quarterback Alex Smith led them on a 13-play drive that culminated in a touchdown to Michael Crabtree which cut the Rams' lead in half. The 49ers had seized the momentum, but immediately lost it when it was learned that Smith would be lost for the game with a concussion.
Both teams made a lot of mistakes today, but they also made a few good plays. The result was a rather sloppy contest that ended in a 24-24 draw, the first tie game in the NFL in four years.
Let's take a look at some of the 49ers who were winners and losers in today's game.
Loser: Alex Smith
San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Alex Smith had just led his team on a second quarter drive which resulted in a touchdown play to Michael Crabtree. Earlier in the drive, however, Smith was hammered in the back of the head area by Rams linebacker Jovan Dunbar.
It was apparent that Smith was woozy after he came to the sidelines following the 49ers' first touchdown. He was held out of the remainder of the game and it remains to be seen if he can play against the Bears on Monday Night Football.
Smith finished with seven completions in eight attempts for 72 yards and one touchdown. He was replaced by Colin Kaepernick, who had his moments, both good and bad.
Alex gets one of our loser awards because he was injured and may not be able to play in the next game.
Loser: Special Teams
The San Francisco 49ers' special teams were subpar once again. David Akers missed a 41-yard field goal in overtime that would have won the game for the 49ers. There were also other mistakes throughout the game.
The 49ers allowed Rams' punter Johnny Hekker to complete two big first-down passes on fake punt plays. For that to happen once in a game is bad, but twice in inexcusable.
Ted Ginn was bottled up returning punts and the Rams nearly put the game away with a Danny Amendola punt return inside the 49ers' 5-yard line—only to have it nullified by a penalty.
I have stated on numerous occasions that the 49ers' kickoff and punt return coverage needs improvement and it almost cost them the game. Special teams coach Brad Seely is highly regarded, but San Francisco has fallen off dramatically in this area in 2012.
Winner: Michael Crabtree
One of the few bright spots for the 49ers today was Michael Crabtree. He caught five passes for 70 yards and one touchdown.
Crabtree had 61 yards in receiving with Smith, but backup Colin Kaepernick only found him once for nine yards.
Crabtree showed good quickness and the ability to find open holes in the zones. With defenses frequently double-teaming Vernon Davis, Crabtree is becoming one of Smith's favorite targets.
Loser: 49ers' Defensive Secondary
The San Francisco 49ers' defensive secondary had problems with the Rams' receivers all game. It was not just one person, but the entire unit.
Chris Culliver completely whiffed on jamming Brian Quick at the line, which resulted in a 36-yard touchdown pass to put the Rams on top 7-0. On the play, safety Dashon Goldson had a chance to stop Quick before he scored, but Quick ran through the would-be tackle and into the end zone.
Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers had problems with the Rams' wide receivers, especially Danny Amendola. He caught 11 passes for 102 yards and would have had the game winner in overtime when he had an 80-yard catch-and-run nullified by a penalty.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was 26-39 for 275 yards and two touchdowns. The defensive backs, who were so good at interceptions a year ago, came away with none against the Rams.
In addition to the missed tackle on Quick's touchdown, Goldson was also flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he lost his composure on a key third quarter drive.
Goldson also missed a tackle on a big first-down catch-and-run by Amendola. The inability of the 49ers to get off the field on that drive enabled the Rams to kick a field goal, which made the score 17-7 at the time. The Rams controlled the ball for 16 plays and took 8:25 off the clock.
Loser: 49ers' Front 7
The San Francisco 49ers' front seven had problems containing Rams running back Stephen Jackson. He rushed for 101 yards and one touchdown on 29 carries. This was the fourth 100-yard rusher the 49ers have allowed this season.
Jackson's backup Daryl Richardson also contributed 58 yards on seven carries.
Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and defensive end Ray McDonald had particularly poor games in the trenches. Sopoaga was unable to stuff the middle of the line and McDonald's 15-yard personal foul call helped the Rams to their third quarter field goal.
The 49ers did get two sacks by Aldon Smith, but they had trouble mounting consistent pressure on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.
Winner and Loser: Colin Kaepernick
I consider Colin Kaepernick both a winner and a loser in today's contest. He was a winner because he made some nice plays and guided the 49ers to a touchdown and a field goal in the fourth stanza.
Kaepernick also put the 49ers in a position to win the game in overtime, but a missed field goal by David Akers killed their best chance at an overtime win. Overall, he was 11-of-17 for 117 yards.
In addition to having a rocket arm, Kaepernick is also a great athlete. He displayed that today with 66 yards and a touchdown on eight rushing attempts.
On the flip side, Kap also displayed tunnel vision and locked in on his primary receiver several times. He did miss a few open receivers by slinging the pass too high.
The main knock on Kaepernick is that he does not have the same command of the offense that Smith does. He doesn't read the opposing defenses as well and still makes many of his plays based on his superior athleticism. Of the five sacks San Francisco's offensive line gave up today, three resulted in Kaepernick holding onto the ball too long.
Though his talent is undeniable, Colin still has ways to go before he can become an NFL starting quarterback.
Next Up, the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football
The Chicago Bears come to San Francisco in a battle of two division leaders. The Bears lost to the Houston Texans this Sunday, but still lead the NFC North with a record of 7-2. They are one game ahead of the Green Bay Packers, who were robbed earlier this season by the replacement officials.
The Bears have a high-intensity defense that leads the league in takeaways. The 49ers must be able to hang onto the football and the health of Alex Smith might be a key to that goal.
Chicago also lost Jay Cutler to a concussion against Houston, so it's possible both teams will be without their starting quarterback.
This showdown on Monday Night Football promises to be an intense, physical game.