49ers-Rams: A W Is a W, in the National Football League

Andy BenschSenior Writer IDecember 21, 2008

In his first ever return to the building he played 14 years in, Isaac Bruce caught his 1,000th career reception—for a touchdown, nonetheless—in the fourth quarter, which helped lead the 49ers to a 17-16, come-from-behind victory of the St. Louis Rams

Despite the victory, the 49ers played gut-wrenchingly horrible football for nearly three-and-a-half quarters. Shaun Hill completed less than 45 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions, while having thrown for less than 150 yards in the middle of the fourth quarter.

However, St. Louis failed on multiple opportunities throughout the game to punch the football into the end zone. Fortunately for the 49ers, holding the Rams to three field goals kept them in the game. And finally, the seemingly defunct San Francisco offense started to get going.

With Frank Gore sidelined for the second week in a row, the key to the offensive turnaround was none other than Bruce, who had five catches on San Francisco's first touchdown drive of the game. 

With just over four minutes remaining, Bruce's final catch of the drive was a three-yard touchdown grab that was also his 1,000th career reception. It couldn't have been a prettier route, either.

Just like he's done for 15 seasons, Bruce made a double fake, deking the defender as if he were going outside, then inside on an apparent post pattern, but at the last second spun back outside for a wide-open touchdown.

Now it was time for San Francisco's defense to make a play. After Nedney booted the kickoff through the end zone, the 49ers forced the Rams to a three-and-out on their next possession, giving the 49ers the chance to take the lead. The 49er offense would do just that.

Even though the drive started out with a sack by St. Louis Rams linebacker Tinoisamoa, the Rams gave five yards back before the next snap on an offsides penalty. Now, the 49ers only had to go 12 yards instead of 17 for a first down. The penalty paid off, as Hill completed throws of 8 yards to Bruce and 13 yards to Johnson setting up the biggest play of the game.

Hill took the next snap from just inside St. Louis territory, stepped up in the pocket and fired another ugly wobbly throw down field (similar looking to two of his earlier interceptions) but found Josh Morgan for a 48-yard, go-ahead touchdown.

The 49ers had both Morgan and Jason Hill in the vicinity along with a couple of Rams defenders but Morgan made a great leaping play for the football and came down with it in the end zone.

Striking so quickly, the 49ers left St. Louis with 1:22 left on the clock only needing a field goal. The drive looked to stall, as three plays into it, 49ers defensive end Justin Smith came away with a big sack and the Rams were forced into a 4th-and-long situation after an incomplete pass on the next play.

The Rams would convert on 4th-and-9 on a great leaping catch on the sideline, as rookie WR Donny Avery made a beautiful catch, dragging his right toe on the sideline to bring in a wobbly ball that had been tipped by 49ers defensive-back Walt Harris. The conversion would give the Rams the ball on the 49ers' 45-yard line.

But oddly enough, with only 25 seconds left (granted the Rams had two timeouts remaining) St. Louis handed off to Steven Jackson on a draw play that was snuffed out immediately by 49ers' linebacker Patrick Willis for a two-yard loss. The stop put pressure on the Rams to get into field position before time would run out.

The Rams would never get to that point, however, as on the very next play, after Jackson had been stopped by Willis (the 49ers' lone Pro-Bowl selection), 49ers' second-string defensive back Tarell Brown intercepted Mark Bulger to seal the game. 

Shaun Hill would have to take only one kneel down to come away with a victory in a game where he had a passer rating of 33.3 heading into the final quarter. But despite the poor play early on, Hill went 10 of 15 for over 140 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

For the 49ers, it may have felt like karma was on their side for this game, as last week they dominated in time of possession against Miami and ended up losing. But today, even though they only had the ball for 21 minutes, they came away with the W.

As for Hill, up until the fourth quarter, I was about to change my mind on the 49er quarterback. I had indeed argued Hill should be the quarterback of the future, but after some of the lame-duck throws that were intercepted in this game, I was starting to question whether or not Hill could be the guy.

Yes, the 49ers only beat the Rams, and yes, Hill still isn't a proven long-time answer, but hey, he gets the job done. That alone should earn him the starting quarterback spot for the 49ers going into next season.

Hopefully, Hill will still have Isaac Bruce to throw to when he's the starter next season.  A lot of fans were convinced the former Ram was washed up, but 49er fans should hope he comes back next season. Not only to pad some of those career stats, but also to help lead the 49ers back to the playoffs.