By Morris Phillips
The NFL’s lowest scoring offense sure did produce a bunch of storylines on Sunday.
Points? Not so much.
The 49ers again packed their dullest picks and smallest shovels for a trip to St. Louis that saw them score seven or fewer points and lose for the fourth time in eight games. Fans were once again treated to a three-hour spectacle featuring Colin Kaepernick running for his life that was near rock-bottom on the entertainment meter.
The haul was especially meager even by current 49ers standards— three sacks of Kaepernick, three 3rd down conversions (of 17 opportunities) six points, 10 punts and 11 first downs—and the Rams deserve much of the credit for that. But the 49ers saw much of their ability to operate dissipated by injuries. Anquan Boldin and Carlos Hyde were inactive due to injury, and Reggie Bush, tabbed as the team’s starting tailback and punt returner this week, left in the first quarter when he was slipped on the concrete behind the team’s bench following a return.
The injuries did stop there: later in the game rookie Mike Davis departed with a hand injury and tight end Garret Celek suffered a concussion.
Afterwards, Coach Jim Tomsula offered familiar, terse responses to increasingly pointed questions. Even Rams Coach Jeff Fisher felt compelled to excuse the 49ers’ offensive effort, no doubt in response to the lack of emotion at the Edward Jones Dome in what has typically been one of the NFL’s most spirited rivalries.
“What we did today was not good enough, and that was me,” Tomsula said.
“In fairness to them, it’s hard to overcome the loss of Anquan and Carlos Hyde, and then Reggie goes out. And they had a couple of other issues out there,” Fisher said.
The Rams improved to 3-0 in the NFC West and their 4-3 record is their first winning record in the month of November since 2006. Super rookie Todd Gurley led the Rams with 133 yards rushing on 20 carries, one of which Gurley took to the house—71 yards through a gaping hole in the defense that allowed him to score untouched.
Gurley has topped 125 yards in all four of his NFL starts, a first, and his 566 rushing yards surpasses Billy Sims’ total of 539 yards in a rusher’s first four NFL starts.
Tavon Austin, the Rams’ speedy wideout closed the scoring with a 66-yard screen pass and run in the fourth quarter. Austin also scored right before halftime on a speed reverse at the goal line in which he reached out to contact the ball with the pylon as fell out of bounds. That score, after Phil Dawson kicked his second field goal for the 49ers, put the Rams up 20-6 right before halftime.
The 49ers made news before the game by cutting Jarryd Hayne, the pre-season sensation that became expendable when Hyde was declared out of Sunday’s game. Hayne had struggled to hold on to the ball once the regular season commenced, but he was released solely for the purpose of the 49ers adding an inside runner for Sunday’s game. With Bush getting the start, the 49ers had just rookie Mike Davis and practice squad call-up Kendall Gaskins in reserve. Gaskins took Hayne’s spot as the supposed power back the 49ers coveted, but Gaskins and Davis combined for just 11 yards rushing and Davis first three carries produced two yards and a safety when the rookie was tackled in the end zone in the first quarter.
Boldin was on the 49ers’ sideline but out of uniform when he took a shove a Rams’ special teamer after a punt play ended on the San Francisco sideline. Boldin’s action drew a penalty highlighting the team’s frustration and dysfunction.
Along those lines, Tomsula, Kaepernick fielded questions after the game about whether the team’s starting quarterback should be benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert. Reports surfaced that key members of the team have contacted the coaching staff in hopes of having them consider a change at quarterback. Tomsula refused to even address the questions, but Kaepernick did have a response.
“Whether they make that change or not is their decision,” Kaepernick said. “But I’ll give this team everything I have every week.”
The 49ers return to Levi’s Stadium on Sunday to face the NFC South leading Falcons. Of course, Atlanta will be smarting when they face the 49ers after they were knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten at home by the Buccaneers on Sunday.