SANTA CLARA — A severe case of bye-week blues and a wheezy San Francisco 49ers offense enabled the St. Louis Rams to hold on for a 13-10 road victory.
Inside the two-minute warning, the 49ers were set up for one final drive to steal the game back from their bottom-dwelling division rivals.
But after leading his team on one of the afternoon’s most promising drives, the 49ers uncorked their worst at the goal line, as Colin Kaepernick fumbled on a keeper from the one-yard line, turning the ball over and sealing the Rams victory.
The 49ers expected to come off their bye revitalized and poised to get back on track against a downtrodden St. Louis Rams team at home.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
Instead, the 49ers failed to score in the second half, while a pair of costly blunders on both sides of the ball started the second half of San Francisco’s season on a sour note.
In an ugly loss such as Sunday’s, there were fingers that could have been pointed in a multitude of directions.
Sure, fans may accuse refs of botching calls, including the goal line fumble. But bell cow Frank Gore never saw the ball in the red zone as the 49ers reached the one-yard line with a timeout to burn.
And an offense loaded with talent put up only 10 points against a depleted Rams team.
The 49ers’ glaring elephant in the room continues to be an offensive line that surrendered eight sacks in Sunday’s contest.
Sunday’s total adds onto a mammoth 14 sacks across the last two games, which can easily be attributed to the 49ers failure to mount anything resembling a functioning offense.
T Joe Staley, a staple of the offensive line once regarded as a 49ers’ strong point, was understandably angry following Sunday’s loss:
“We got all the talent in the world. We’re doing some dumb stuff and they took advantage of it … Penalties, dumb blocks, dumb techniques, dumb schemes, played like shit.”
Kaepernick finished the night completing 22 of 33 passes for 237 yards and one touchdown while WR Anquan Boldin led the 49ers with 93 yards on six receptions and a touchdown.
The 49ers defense was spearheaded by LB Chris Borland, who totaled 18 tackles on the night. The defense bounced back with a solid effort — holding St. Louis to just 193 net yards — but ultimately couldn’t anchor the team.
After the game, head coach Jim Harbaugh wouldn’t look at individual positives, but instead stressed the need for better overall football.
“Got to suck it up as a team right now. Got to play better. Better habits, better assignments, better coaching.”
Riding behind the return of G Mike Iupati and the rookie center Marcus Martin, who got his first NFL start, the 49ers opened Sunday’s scoring in the first quarter with a 34-yard field goal from K Phil Dawson.
San Francisco’s offense looked efficient during the early stages of their opening drive, chewing up yardage with a mixture of plays out of the backfield and through the air.
But the 49ers hit a wall after crossing midfield. Two misfires from Kaepernick, including a near pick on a slant route to Boldin, stalled the drive short of the red zone.
The 49ers defense remained an area of concern heading into the day’s game due to the absence of LB Patrick Willis and CB Tramaine Brock. The unit looked strong, forcing a three-and-out against St. Louis during their first trip onto the Levi’s Stadium sod.
Kaepernick and the struggling offense received help from the defense when S Antoine Bethea recorded the game’s first interception with an athletic leaping pick as Davis tried to thread a pass to WR Tavon Austin.
A defensive blunder by St. Louis left Boldin wide open in front of the end zone for an easy 27-yard touchdown reception from Kaepernick and a 10-3 lead.
The Rams would return the favor right before the end of the first half after St. Louis DE Robert Quinn blew past the struggling offensive line to record the team’s fifth sack of the day, jarring the ball loose from the scrambling Kaepernick.
Taking over at the 36-yard line, Davis would convert much in the same way that the 49ers did earlier, when a lapse in the San Francisco defense allowed an unobstructed Kenny Britt to jog down the sideline for a 21-yard touchdown and a 10-10 tie.
Controversy and confusion ensued at the conclusion of the first half, as a last-second 55-yard field goal by Dawson fell short of the uprights and into the arms of return man Tavon Austin.
Austin rush out of the end zone, only to be tackled back across the goal line for a apparent safety.
Despite an adamant argument from head coach Jim Harbaugh and various 49ers members, the officials ruled Austin’s forward progress was stopped in the field of play, not behind the goal line, erasing what would have been an exciting ending to an otherwise sloppy first half of play.
If the first two quarters of play were ugly, the second half was downright hideous. The teams combined for just 75 total yards and no points in the third quarter.
The fourth wasn’t much better for the 49ers, as the offensive line continued to fold under pressure from the Rams fierce defensive line.
The Rams caught their first break of the half following what was perhaps the worst 49ers drive of the day. After a three and out that saw the 49ers pick up zero yards while being backed up against their goal line, punter Andy Lee rattled off a dud that traveled just 23 yards, setting up a short field for Davis and the Rams.
While the 49ers defense stopped the Rams from picking up a first down, the short field allowed Zuerlein to hit a 39-yard field goal attempt that split the uprights for a 13-10 lead.
After yet another punt, the 49ers were set up for last minute heroics as Kaepernick led his offense out onto the field for their final drive.
Michael Crabtree helped set up a first and goal situation from the two-yard line with plenty of time on the clock and a timeout to burn.
Kaepernick slung a pass to Crabtree who flashed right on a corner route towards the goal line for a completion that was reviewed by the refs. Despite Crabtree appearing to have his knees across the line, the pass was ruled down at the one yard line.
After a misfire over the back of the end zone set up a third and goal, Kaepernick tried to break through the pile on a quarterback keep, but lost the ball in the fray, to be recovered by St. Louis for a game clinching touchback.
Although the play was reviewed, there was inconclusive evidence to overturn it, marking a gut wrenching end to an otherwise dramatic drive that left a salty taste in players mouths.
Multiple players on the 49ers claim Kaepernick broke the plane of the goal line, with Staley claiming adamantly that Kaepernick was in. Kaepernick himself also weighed in on the disastrous last play:
“I know I crossed the line … I was looking in the end zone.”
The loss drops the 49ers to a glaring 4-4 record in a tough NFC West division. The 49ers take on tough New Orleans next week, hoping to avoid dropping to below the .500 mark while keeping their playoff hopes alive.
Chris Borland’s 18 tackles during Sunday’s game is the most by any player this season in a single game. Kaepernick’s TD pass to Anquan Boldin extended his streak to 15 straight games with a touchdown pass. He is now tied with Jeff Garcia for the second longest streak in 49ers history. Boldin also eclipsed the career 900 catch mark tonight, now sitting at 902.