(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
By Pearl Allison Lo
LOS ANGELES — Both teams received gifts of differing quality as the Los Angeles Rams trounced the San Francisco 49ers 48-17 Sunday at Memorial Coliseum to close out 2018 and the regular season.
After stumbling with two straight losses, Los Angeles recovered with two straight wins of increased points. Compared to last year’s December game between the NFC West California rivals, the Rams did not rest their players and star running back Todd Gurley was still absent, this time with his knee injury. Last year, the 49ers won 34-13.
On treating this week like the Wild Card weekend last year and what it was like, Rams quarterback Jared Goff replied, “…Just a little bit more urgency, more intensity…Treating it like a playoff game which, in our case, it really was, getting us this week off now.”
San Francisco fell behind in this contest, due to two interceptions and one fumble that led to Los Angeles scores. Cory Littleton was key, with two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. The 49ers were 27% in third down efficiency, while the Rams were 63%. Los Angeles scored at least two touchdowns in each of the first three quarters. However, San Francisco ended the game with nice showings on offense and defense, outscoring the Rams 15-3 in the final quarter.
On the performance of the defense the last four games, head coach Sean McVay remarked, “…they did a great job today. Their ability to take the ball away was what allowed us to gain control of that early on…We took better care of the football today…If you’re able to win those turnover battles…other than the points, there’s no greater indicator of wins and losses in this league…”
San Francisco tight end George Kittle broke a NFL record in the fourth quarter, with the most receiving yards in a single season by a tight end. On breaking the record, Kittle said…”It definitely wasn’t just me. You had three quarterbacks throwing me the ball, you had O-line, just ups and downs throughout the whole year, guys in and out…” On him trading his jersey with someone else, Kittle voiced, “I refuse to. That’s mine, that one is mine. I actually hid that so no one can take it at all. I don’t want that Tom Brady thing happening when he got his jersey stolen, so yeah that’s mine.”
For the quarterbacks, the 49ers’ Nick Mullens was 23-for-33 with 282 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Goff was 15-for-26 with 199 yards and four touchdowns.
Rushing-wise, Alfred Morris led San Francisco with 111 yards and a score and C.J. Anderson led Los Angeles with 132 yards and a score.
Receiving-wise, San Francisco was led by Kittle with 149 yards and a score and Los Angeles was led by Brandin Cooks with 62 yards and two scores.
The Rams’ Josh Reynolds also had two scores and for the 49ers, Kendrick Bourne and Richie James Jr. had a score apiece.
San Francisco’s first three drives consisted of a fumble and two interceptions. Meanwhile, Los Angeles’s first two drives were touchdowns via a pass to Cooks and a run by C.J. Anderson. That set the tone for the first half. In the first quarter, net yards rushing and passing were 76 and 60 for San Francisco versus 16 apiece for the Rams. The 49ers were 0-for-5 on third down. Morris ran for 58 yards and Anderson 29.
The fumble occurred on on third down with 13:19 left. Los Angeles’s Mark Barron caused Kyle Juszczyk to fumble and Aqib Talib recovered it at the Rams’ 46 yard line. Goff made a three-yard pass to Cooks with 12:03 left for the first tally of the afternoon.
San Francisco’s second miscue also came on third down, but was a lot more interesting. With 11:10 left, Littleton intercepted Mullens’ pass to Richie James Jr., but the call was negated after replay reviewed James Jr. was not down by contact. Then the same exact thing happened, but this time Littleton ran for 22 yards. Jeff Wilson Jr. was injured during the play with a shoulder injury.
Starting on the 49ers’ 13-yard line, Los Angeles only needed a 2-yard run by Anderson, a defensive holding penalty by Ronald Blair III and one more yard by Anderson to make it 14-0 with 10:46 left. This was the second shortest drive of the game at 19 seconds.
San Francisco’s longest drive so far ended in an interception by Blake Countess intended for Kittle with 6:28 left.
The 49ers then put up points in the first quarter when Alfred Morris started with his long of the day, a 51-yard run with 4:40 left. It ended in a 30-yard field goal by Robbie Gould, 14-3. Aaron Donald sacked Mullens during the drive. On the last play, Countess was injured and evaluated for a concussion.
The Rams were forced to punt again to start off the second quarter. They would have had a 15-yard gain by Reynolds but Antone Exum Jr. pushed him out of bounds and in turn was injured.
Los Angeles however, made it 21-3 with another Littleton interception of Mullen trying to target James Jr.. Littleton converted this one himself with a 19-yard touchdown run.
The Rams lost a challenge, which was ruled an incomplete pass instead of another fumble with 12:01 left.
Their following drive took 11 plays and 5:10 and Los Angeles ran up the score in the second as well. The longest play was a 21-yard pass to Cooks and he ended with the scoring play as well, an 18 yard pass, as he spun into the end zone with 6:09 left to make it 28-3. Teammate Andrew Whitworth suffered a knee injury during the drive.
San Francisco followed suit with their first touchdown drive of the match. The longest play was a 22-yard pass to James Jr.. The Rams committed two penalties. The first was when Barron took a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty with a clothesline knockdown of Mullen.
In between, the worst injury of the game came when the truck had to be taken out for the 49ers’ Laken Tomlinson’s right knee.
Los Angeles’s second penalty came when Littleton had a defensive holding after the Rams stopped a third down. The 49ers capitalized and Mullens made a 9-yard pass to James Jr. in the end zone with 2:10 left, for the 28-10 tally.
The Rams’ Greg Zuerlein capped the second half with a 28-yard field goal with three seconds left to make it 31-10.
Los Angeles came out in the third to establish their biggest lead so far. San Francisco had them at third down but Goff made a long 36-yard pass to Tyler Higbee, followed by a 29-yard touchdown pass to Reynolds to make it 38-10. It was the first consecutive scores of the game for the Rams.
The 49ers scored as well with the help of another 15-yard penalty. Mullens made a 14-yard pass to Bourne and then Samson Ebukam was charged with lowering the head to initiate contact. Kittle caught a 25-yard shotgun pass, Trent Taylor made it to the 1-yard line and Morris scored his first touchdown of the game with 8:28 left. Morris’s score ended a seven-game drought.
San Francisco then committed their own 15-yard penalty with unnecessary roughness on Exum Jr. that knocked the ball out of the receiver’s hands. This also ended in a score for the opposing team with six runs by Anderson and two runs by John Kelly. Reynolds caught his first score of the game with a two-yard pass by Goff, as Los Angeles re-established a 28-point lead, 45-17.
A 10-yard sack of Mullens by Barron with 1:14 in the third left helped end the three exchanges of back-and-forth scoring as the 49ers were forced to punt.
Zuerlein’s 51-yard field goal with 11:49 in the fourth marked the Rams’ biggest lead of the game at 48-17.
This is when San Francisco ended the game on a good offensive and defensive effort, scoring their first two straight scores of the night. Mullens said after the game, “Obviously, the start wasn’t what we wanted. But, to finish the way we did shows the toughness and the grit of this team.”
The 49ers started by capping off a 9 play, 75 yard and 4:50 drive with a 24-48 touchdown. Morris had a 20-yard run, Kittle caught a 25-yard pass and after James Jr. was stopped at the one-yard line, on third down, Mullens made a two-yard pass to Bourne. Nickell Robey-Coleman was called for defensive pass interference on the play. Kittle had a total 46 yards during the drive. On the last play before Kittle broke the record, Mullens narrated, “Yeah, so he was 9-yards away…Pre-snap, they threw a backer out there so…they’re not going to let him get the record. But..screw it, we’re throwing it to him…So, then he caught it and finished his season with a touchdown. So, it’s a storybook finish for George and we’re really excited to be working with him.”
On the other end, San Francisco kept stuffing Los Angeles, which led to a turnover on downs. Mullens passed six yards to Kittle and then 43 yards to him in the end zone. The 49ers were also successful on a bonus two-point conversion attempt from Mullens to Taylor.
Littleton remarked on what it means to be 13-3 and clinch a first round bye, “Truly amazing…the top teams who’ve won the Super Bowl the past five years have had a bye. Something we wanted to make sure that we got and we’ve done it.”
San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan’s opening remarks consisted of “Injuries: (49ers RB Jeff) Wilson (Jr.) – shoulder, did not return; (49ers OL) Laken (Tomlinson) – knee, didn’t return; (49ers RB Alfred) Morris – shoulder, no return; and (49ers NB) K’Waun (Williams) was ribs.”
On how close the 49ers are to being in the playoff race next year, cornerback Richard Sherman stated, “..It’s hard to tell without your guys out there. Without (49ers QB) Jimmy ‘G’ (Garoppolo), you’ve got your franchise quarterback you lose, what? — three games into the season. You lose the running back you just paid no games into the season. Your starting receivers get banged up. You lose a safety a game almost every game all the way up until the tenth, eleventh game. I think it’ll be touch to know how good we’ll be till we have a consistent unit out there and show some continuity.”
Game Notes: San Francisco finished 4-12.