The San Francisco 49ers went into the Edward Jones Dome and manhandled the St. Louis Rams in every facet of the game on Thursday night, bruising their way to a 35-11 victory and a 2-2 record.
After being on the wrong side of two ugly blowouts and a sloppy first quarter, Jim Harbaugh's squad finally looked like the team we all thought it was.
The Rams, who entered the season with high expectations, are now 1-3 and have a ton of work to do in the NFC West.
San Francisco got a near-perfect blend of offense. Colin Kaepernick erased two forgettable weeks en route to 167 yards, two scores and a shiny 115.7 QB rating, while Frank Gore benefited from some cavernous running lanes for 153 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
Let's do this! #Niners— Aldon Smith (@AldonSmith) September 27, 2013
Nevertheless, the Niners pressured Sam Bradford into a painfully inconsistent night and clogged up all the running lanes, holding Daryl Richardson to 16 yards on 12 carries.
After a Greg Zuerlein 40-yard field goal and a Phil Dawson missed field goal, the Rams led 3-0 at the completion of the first quarter.
Then San Francisco took complete control.
On the first drive of the second quarter, Kaepernick and Boldin badly beat cornerback Cortland Finnegan for two long third-down conversions, including this one to make it 7-3:
Following a spectacular diving Donte Whitner interception—helped out by tight coverage and a deflection from Tramaine Brock—in the end zone, the Niners drove right back down the field, and on 4th-and-inches, Gore easily broke through for about 1,224 inches:
San Francisco entered the half up 14-3.
The Rams were unable to do anything offensively in the second half, while Vernon Davis, Anthony Dixon and Kendall Hunter all added insurance TDs to force the game out of hand.
Tight end Lance Kendricks added a six-yard touchdown following a Kaepernick fumble, and Benjamin Cunningham punched in a two-point conversation to make it 28-11. But it was too little and far too late with under six minutes to go to reverse a comprehensive effort from the Niners.
Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams: C-
Bradford was making some good throws on St. Louis' opening drives, but as Chinua Achebe would say, things fell apart.
With a chance to give the Rams a 7-0 lead, he badly missed a wide-open Austin Pettis in the end zone on third down. That was seemingly where it all began to deteriorate, as his play only got worse as the game progressed.
Of course, the play-calling and offensive line didn't help, either:
Four years in, I still can't figure out whether Sam Bradford is bad or the Rams are ruining him— Andrew Sharp (@andrewsharp) September 27, 2013
The interception wasn't completely his fault, but he overthrew several receivers and completely failed to put together any kind of rhythm in the second half.
He finished 19-of-41 for 202 yards, one touchdown and a pick. Although he hardly had any time in the pocket, he needs to be more accurate going forward.
Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers: B+
It wasn't anything spectacular from a statistical point of view, but Kaepernick made the right throws, limited mistakes (one late turnover), and managed the game perfectly for the Niners.
If this performance helps re-instill his confidence after two putrid weeks, it will prove to be even better than his numbers suggest.
James Laurinaitis, LB, St. Louis Rams: A-
Don't worry, Rams fans: At least someone came to play.
St. Louis' offense was stagnant and its defense—although better than its offense—was inconsistent. But if anyone deserves credit, it's James Laurinaitis.
The fifth-year linebacker out of Ohio State covered an unreal amount of turf on Thursday, consistently involving himself in both the pass and run game. He made 12 combined tackles (nine solo), two tackles for loss and two pass deflections—both of which were nearly interceptions—and played extremely hard until the very end.
49ers Front Seven: A
This spot was originally reserved for Navarro Bowman, who turned in an early Player of the Week performance—six tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble and one pass deflection.
But I figured the entire front seven needed mention. With Lewis and Smith both out, the boys in the trenches answered the call emphatically.
Ahmad Brooks, Justin Smith, Glenn Dorsey and others made life miserable for Bradford, sacking him five times and forcing countless bad throws with unrelenting pressure. They were just as dominant in the run game, holding the Rams to 18 total yards on 19 carries. The Rams nearly had as many punts (11) as first downs (14).
Yeah, it doesn't get much better than that.
The Niners will return home to host the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football on Oct. 6, while the Rams will remain at the Edward Jones Dome and attempt to turn things around against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars.