49ers vs. Rams: Final Grades, Analysis for San Francisco
So much for the "hot hand" of Colin Kaepernick.
The 49ers lose, in overtime, 16-13 and the cool nerves and bionic leg of Rams rookie Greg "Legatron" Zuerlien, who wins it with a 54-yard field goal in overtime after tying it up at the gun in regulation with a 53-yard effort.
David Akers, meanwhile, missed a 51-yarder that would've won it for the 49ers.
These teamed played an overtime for the second straight game and were mere seconds away from another tie.
Kaepernick made some big plays late, most notably a 50-yard scramble that set up the 49ers go-ahead field goal late in regulation, but he had a number of mistakes in the game and wasn't very effective overall.
It will set up a lot of second-guessing for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who kept Kaepernick in as the starter despite Alex Smith being fully healthy, explaining that Kaepernick had the hot hand.
The 49ers fall to 8-3-1, missing out on a chance to open some room between themselves and the Chicago Bears, who also lost in overtime today, for the second seed in the NFC and a first-round playoff bye. They'll look to rebound at home next week against the Dolphins.
The Rams improve to 5-6-1, to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive. It's a signature win for them in a game in which they didn't have their best offensive player in Danny Amendola and really did nothing offensively for the first 59 minutes of the game. It took a resolute performance from their defense to win it.
It just goes to show you, in divisional games, anything can happen.
You're sure about this, coach?
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Colin Kaepernick: C
Kaepernick finished the game a fairly pedestrian 21-of-32 for 208 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions, but those stats don't tell the story.
He cost the team 10 points in turnovers. First, there was a safety he took backpedaling into his own end zone on a play that started at the 17-yard-line and then intentionally grounding the pass.
Then, late in the fourth quarter, his pitch backward to Ted Ginn was too high and the fumble was scooped up by Rams corner Janoris Jenkins for a touchdown.
The only thing that saves Kaepernick's grade is his scrambling. He had 84 yards on nine carries and made some plays that the Rams just couldn't account for defensively.
As a passer though, he's got a lot of work to do, and it's fair to say he's regressed the past two weeks. There were moments of indecision and panic, both before and after the snap. Kaepernick also didn't show the accuracy that he had the past couple of games, missing passes high, low and behind receivers.
To be fair to the kid he made a number of good reads and throws late, to Michael Crabtree in particular but also to Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. Also, his offensive line had a poor game in front of him.
Overall though, it was the kind of performance teams muddle through and put up with when the goal is to build for the future, not when they're trying to contend for a championship.
With understudy Hunter out, the running burden will be even more on Gore's shoulders.
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Frank Gore: C-
At this rate Gore is not going to make it through the season.
The veteran back's workload has increased ever since Kaepernick supplanted Alex Smith as the starter, as the coaching staff just didn't trust Kendall Hunter's blocking and blitz awareness when paired with the young QB.
Now, with Hunter lost for the season with an Achilles injury, the task gets even harder for Gore, who had a season-high 23 carries for only 58 yards, with a few other touches and hits going for naught thanks to holding penalties.
Gore's line didn't give him much room at all to run and the Rams were sending scores of bodies at the line of scrimmage all game long. Gore seemed to hurt his shoulder late in the game and his left arm was hanging limply at his side. Still, he returned to the game.
The coaches need to either give Brandon Jacobs more time, give rookie LaMichael James a chance or to just throw it a lot more, because Gore's getting worn down.
His best play of the game was a block way downfield to spring Kaepernick for a 50-yard run, the longest by a 49ers quarterback in franchise history.
Brandon Jacobs: D
One carry that picked up a first down early in the game but just four carries for six yards overall and that's just not good enough.
Bruce Miller: B
A couple of early catches and some crunching blocks early. Faded late.
Regardless of who's passing it to him, Crab has been getting his flex on of late.
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Michael Crabtree: B+
A quiet first three quarters, but exploded late, when Kaepernick started looking for him repeatedly, and finished with seven catches on 101 yards (on 11 targets), including a 30-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter to set up a field goal.
The Rams held him without a touchdown for the first time in six games, however, so they'll consider that a win (well, that and they actually won the game).
Mario Manningham: B
Stretching the boundaries of the term "possession receiver," Manningham hauled in five passes, but for only 37 yards, catching a couple of big slants on third down to set up scores. There was nothing for him downfield though, and he hurt his shoulder late in the game.
Randy Moss: B
Three catches for 30 yards for Moss, who had rookie Janoris Jenkins playing approximately a zip code off of him in coverage and could've caught about 15 hitches had the coaches wanted to. Again, nothing downfield for him though, no attempts at such from Kaepernick, and a few communication issues between the two.
Ted Ginn: D
In a game that was a microcosm of his receiving career, Ginn made a terrific one-handed catch on a pass that was behind him to pick up one yard and then had a ball sail over his flailing arms on a pitch play late in the fourth quarter for a Rams touchdown.
To think, he's playing ahead of first-round pick A.J. Jenkins.
The sight of multiple defenders engulfing him must be getting old for Davis.
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Vernon Davis: C-
Two catches, 15 yards from Davis, and double teams can only explain or excuse so much.
If this keeps up, he might start campaigning for Scott Tolzien to get a shot.
Delanie Walker: D-
Look, except for the dropped touchdown in the fourth quarter that would've sealed the game and the holding penalty in overtime, I thought he played quite average.
Yes, this is my go-to picture for the offensive line.
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Joe Staley: C-
Had a holding penalty in the game and it wasn't his best run-blocking effort, either. Robert Quinn got past him for a sack. Probably the worst game of the season for Staley, overall.
Mike Iupati: B-
The team tried running behind him early with success, but that faded quickly as the Rams devoted more bodies to the cause. Traps and pulls to the right went nowhere.
Jonathan Goodwin: C
Another poor snap on a shotgun play, and some miscues with Kaepernick here and there. The two of them are still working on their chemistry. Had trouble diagnosing some zone and overload blitzes.
Alex Boone: B+
The opposite of Iupati on this day, he was a force on the move, not as much when they were running behind him.
Anthony Davis: B
Gave up a sack on a delayed blitz, his broken finger seemed to affect his play, couldn't really wrap his hands on anybody. Sloppy run blocking.
When you play it backwards, it looks like Campbell is cowering before the mighty Smith.
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Justin Smith: A
A team-high eight tackles, including an early 3rd-and-1 stop of Steven Jackson, and a sack in his third straight game. Smith was the team's best defender on this day, and it wasn't particularly close.
Isaac Sopoaga: B
A couple of stops early on and was terrific in the first half, where the Rams only had 14 yards rushing on nine carries. Didn't get to play as much in the second half and wasn't as effective when he did.
Ray McDonald: C-
The Rams (and most teams) consistently tried to run to his side as opposed to Smith's side. What little success they had, it came against him. Just one tackle, and no pressure. It's been a very disappointing season for him, overall.
Will Tukuafu: C
Played a few snaps for the winded McDonald in the third quarter without a noticeable drop-off.
Ricky Jean Francois: C-
Played a few snaps for the winded Smith and there was.
At least there's no controversy about one A. Smith...
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Patrick Willis: C-
Started very well but didn't make much of an impact through the final three quarters and was beaten for a two-point conversion late in the game. An off game for Willis, who had been balling the past couple of months.
NaVorro Bowman: C+
An early personal foul penalty when he lost his composure and kicked out at a Rams lineman who he believed cheapshotted him, and a bad missed tackle against Steven Jackson in the fourth quarter. Eight tackles overall for Bowman, but no real standout plays.
Aldon Smith: B
Another sack for Smith, giving him a league-leading 17.5 on the season, tying Fred Dean's team record, which was set in 1983. Smith passed Hall-of-Famer Reggie White's mark of 31 sacks in the first two seasons of a pass-rusher's career and still has four games to add to it. He's also within five sacks now of ex-Giant Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5.
Smith even dropped into coverage a couple of times in the game, and didn't look too bad doing it.
Ahmad Brooks: C-
Three quiet tackles for Brooks, who had the Rams running his way quite a bit in the second half, but it was a dropped interception (and potential pick-six) on the first play of scrimmage that looms large.
One way or another, Goldson finds a way for guys to feel impact on their noggins.
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Carlos Rogers: B-
Got a reprieve of sorts when Danny Amendola was ruled out for the game, but rookie Chris Givens still got some catches against him. Tackled well though.
Tarell Brown: C
Similar to Rogers, but allowed even more completions. Did have a fine tackle in overtime on a 3rd-and-4 play to force a punt and also had great coverage on a fourth down play in the corner of the end zone.
Chris Culliver: B+
Physical and battled all game. Was determined to not allow anything, especially when Brian Quick was lined up opposite him.
Donte Whitner: B-
Lost his guy a couple of times, but nothing too disastrous. Stepped up well against Jackson and Daryl Richardson in the run game.
Dashon Goldson: C-
Had a bad missed tackle against Steven Jackson in the third quarter that almost cost the defense a touchdown and a terrible helmet-to-helmet persona foul against Sam Bradford to set up the tying field goal.
With Goldson, you have to take the bad with the good...
Green with envy of Zuerlien for Akers?
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David Akers: C-
Yes, he made two short field goals, and yes, his kickoffs were not an issue and yes, David Akers is battling through a pelvic injury.
But at what point do you say "enough is enough?"
Akers is now 7-of-15 on kicks of 40 yards or longer, and has missed all of his attempts from 50 yards or longer except for one 63-yarder at Green Bay.
He's cost the 49ers both games against the Rams and has among the worst percentages in the league.
Akers has had a long, decorated career and is a borderline Hall-of-Famer, but coaches usually don't have this much patience with kickers.
Andy Lee: A
Averaged a terrific 45.0 yards net on six punts (with only 36 return yards overall) and dropped four inside the 20. Lee even had to handle a rare safety kick, which he did without incident.
Brian Jennings: A
No issues for the 49ers long-snapper that I could see.
Ted Ginn: C-
No kickoff return opportunities all game and just six yards on a pair of punt returns. Rams punter Johnny Hekker didn't give him much to work with, with so many punts going out of bounds.
I wonder how Andrew Luck's doing...
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When it was all said and done, this might be the worst-coached game of Jim Harbaugh's 49ers career, just a tour-de-force of bad decisions down the stretch.
Lining up Ted Ginn, a receiver, in the backfield on a critical third down play late in the game and holding a 13-10 lead to receive the read option pitch from Colin Kaepernick was a disastrous idea.
Either the play wasn't practiced enough, or Kaepernick just blew it, but the pitch was too high, Ginn couldn't handle it, and it led to the tying touchdown late.
With the team up 13-10, the 49ers played prevent on defense, dropping eight deep into coverage and opening up wide lines for Sam Bradford to scramble for a pair of first downs, setting up the tying field goal.
Then, in overtime, Harbaugh got way too conservative when the 49ers were driving on offense and way too trusting of David Akers' leg, when Akers did nothing this season to earn that trust.
Worst of all, Harbaugh has done everything possible to set up a week of controversy going forward, thanks to his comments in the press that he was starting Kaepernick because he had "the hot hand."
Kaepernick didn't play that well at all in the loss and had a number of bad mistakes, and now Harbaugh will set himself up for criticism and scrutiny regardless of what he does.
If he sticks with Kaepernick, he looks like a liar and Alex Smith becomes a martyr and a pariah.
If he goes back to Smith, then it's a revolving door at the most important position for a contending team in December, and that can't be good. It makes the coach look wishy-washy and the veterans lose trust in him.
Either way, it will lead to lots of questions in the locker room and the players will be asked and baited to take sides.
Really, this was bound to happen unless Kaepernick unexpectedly played well every week.