49ers hold off Rams, 24-16, behind Jimmy Garoppolo’s 3 TDs; strong defense

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) gets the football away as he’s being rushed by the Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99) and nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (69) in the first half of Sun Oct 18, 2020 at Levis Stadium in Santa Clara (AP News photo)

By Joe Hawkes
Staff Writer

SANTA CLARA, Calif — In a game that many viewed was a must-win to salvage their season, the San Francisco 49ers was able to outlast the visiting Los Angeles Rams, 24-16, on NBC’s Sunday Night Football behind three TDs from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the first half and a strong effort from the defense.

It’s the first win for the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium this season, after dropping their first three home games to the Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles and the Miami Dolphins.

The 49ers (3-3) jumped on the Rams early, scoring touchdowns on three of their first four possessions. On San Francisco’s first possession, Garoppolo engineered a 6-play, 76-yard drive that was capped off by a 6-yard pass to wide receiver Deebo Samuel for the TD to put the 49ers up 7-0 in the first quarter.

Garoppolo was 4-for-4 for 69 yards on the opening drive.

After the 49ers’ defense forced the Rams to punt on their opening possession of the game, San Francisco took a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter on Garopplo’s second TD of the game. Garoppolo would find tight end George Kittle for a a 44-yard score after the 49ers faced a 4th and 2 from the Rams 44-yard line.

Kittle’s score punctuated a 10-play, 87-yard drive in 6:08 for the 49ers, who emphasized getting the football out of Garoppolo’s hands quickly and relied heavily on the running game which took a hit when running back Raheem Mostert left the game early in the third quarter with an ankle injury.

Mostert was off to a good start, carrying the ball 17 times for 65 yards before his exit.

Kittle led all receivers with seven catches for 109 yards and the TD, while Samuel finished six catches for 66 yards and a score.

After quarterback Jared Goff found wide receiver Robert Woods in the middle of the end zone on a 10-yard TD to get the Rams on the scoreboard and cut San Francisco’s lead to 14-6, following a missed extra point, the 49ers would put together another scoring drive shortly before halftime.

Garoppolo engineered a 13-play, 75-yard drive that chewed up 7:16 and found rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk for a 2-yard score that gave the 49ers a commanding 21-6 lead.

Garoppolo was 17 of 21 for 215 yards and 3 TDs in the first half. Offensively, the 49ers had their way with the Rams, racking up 18 first downs and 291 yards of total offense in the first 30 minutes of the game.

Garoppolo, who was benched after the first half in last week’s 43-17 embarrassing loss to the Miami Dolphins at home in which he completed just 7 of 17 passing for 77 yards, two interceptions and a career-low 15.7 passer rating; bounced back this week with a better showing by completing 23 of 33 passes for 268 yards, 3 TDs and a 124.3 passer rating.

Oh yeah, he improves to 4-0 against the Rams all-time.

Coming into the game, the talk leading up to the showdown against the Rams was if Garoppolo could show that he’s still the right quarterback for the 49ers long term and could San Francisco’s much maligned offensive line withstand the dominating force that is perennial Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.

San Francisco’s offensive line, which has been a target of criticism the last two weeks as they surrendered 23 quarterback hits and 10 sacks in the last two games, kept Donald off Garoppolo the entire night.

For the game, Donald registered just one solo tackle and one quarterback pressure after recording four of the Rams’ eight sacks against the Washington Football Team last week in Los Angeles’ 30-10 win on the road.

In the second half, the Rams (4-2) converted their first possession into a 42-yard field goal by kicker Samuel Sloman to cut the 49ers’ lead to 21-9.

Following back-to-back 3-and-outs by the 49ers, Goff drove the Rams down to the 49ers’ 2-yard line and looked like Los Angeles would finish off the drive with a TD but Goff’s pass intended for wide receiver Josh Reynolds was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Jason Verrett.

Verrett thwarted a golden scoring opportunity for Goff and the Rams that could’ve changed the tenor of the game.

Goff finished 19 of 38 for 198 yards, 2 TDs and one interception as 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh mixed up coverages that didn’t allow Goff and the Rams’ offense to get comfortable on Sunday night.

The 49ers added a 49-yard field goal by Robbie Gould to push their lead up to 24-9 in the fourth quarter, but the Rams wouldn’t go down quietly.

On the Rams’ next drive, Goff hooked up with Reynolds for a 40-yard TD over cornerback Emmaunel Moseley. Moseley was called for a defensive pass interference call, but the Rams declined the penalty making the score 24-16.

San Francisco’s defense held the Rams to 4 of 12 on third downs and 311 yards of total offense. Much of those yards came on the Rams’ final drive of the game. Moseley, along with linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw paced the defense with seven tackles each.

The schedule gets more daunting for San Francisco with games against the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, and Rams again in the next five weeks.

For at least one night, the 49ers have quieted the skeptics with an impressive win over their divisional rivals from Southern California.