SANTA CLARA -- Two things stand out about the Rams-49ers game, which mostly crawled to its conclusion Sunday
First, it’s a shame that the 49ers didn’t lose twice.
Second, it’s a shame that the Rams won once.
Third, it’s a shame that Jerome Boger and his officiating crew will work again next week given their general energy level and sense of urgency.
There are actually many more things that stand out about the hot runny mess that was Rams 13, 49ers 10, but those three stand out.
And frankly, the Rams have an excuse for what they did – they’re not normally very good. And they also have something upon which to be pleased – their defensive line was rampant in the face of a very yielding San Francisco offensive line. Eight quarterback sacks against a line made up entirely of Dalai Lamas is impressive; against a team with Super Bowl aspirations, it is an untrammeled delight.
And to force the game-cementing fumble at their one-foot line (credit James Laurinaitis for the recovery, Jo-Lonn Dunbar for the force, although Laurinaitis thought 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick might have fumbled the ball a bit on the snap) – well, that’s defense anyone would call mighty.
But the bulk of it was football at its least entertaining, appealing or useful. The St. Louis offense, on its third quarterback and second running back, didn’t really do enough to avoid getting blown out by a more fully engaged opponent. The 49er offense was tepid, timid and in reverse. The 49er defense had the Ram offense to keep its blood pressure down, and the Ram defense smelled Colin Kaepernick in full flight. 49er punter Andy Lee hit his worst punt in about forever to set up the Rams’ winning field goal.
And head coach Jim Harbaugh sent out a robot with a limited response chip to deal with all questions, as in:
“Not enough good football, got beat.” Beep.
“Tough loss.” Beep.
“We have to play at a high level in this league to win.” Beep.
“We weren’t good enough to win.” Beep.
“We have to play better.” Beep.
“We have to have good habits.” Beep.
And beep, and beep, and beep.
The real truth here, rather than what Harbaugh was passing through clenched teeth and pursed lips, is that the 49ers looked listless and uninvolved from the start. Rather than be rejuvenated by the bye week, they appeared sluggish, uninspired and disinterested. It cannot be said for sure that they were indeed that because, well, not caring at the NFL level is a synonym for getting crushed, but their performances with only a few exceptions (Anquan Boldin, Chris Borland, to name all we dare to) reeked of didn’t-bring-the-A-game.
And Harbaugh’s presser was more shellshock than stubbornness. He too didn’t seem to know how it all started so poorly and stayed that way, and at this point, with a 4-4 record the same can be said for their entire season. The 49ers look like the NFC West is someone else’s problem, and with the Arizona Cardinals three games and a tiebreaker ahead at the halfway point, it may well be.
But that speeds away from the scene of this accident far too quickly. This should be lingered on a bit, because when this stacked against their earlier loss to Chicago, this looks far worse. The Bears back then looked like a promising operation, and only since that win have gone down the gurgler, while the Rams were pronounced doomed on arrival when quarterback Sam Bradford got taken out in the preseason.
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And this was worse because the 49ers sustained only one drive the entire day – the final one, which started at their own 12 and ended with the Kaepernick fumble. The offense, which was supposed to be better with all the new passing tools, is worse, and the offensive line is, between injuries and holdouts, as porous as it has been since perhaps the Mike Nolan era. Why, they didn’t even get enough drive penetration to try more than two field goals the entire day, which for them is downright scandalous.
“We’ve got to, as a team, come in Tuesday and make our mind up on where we want to go,” running back Frank Gore (14 for 49) said. “We’ve got to go do it and stop playing around.”
Sounds like the fellas have been taking their success for granted.
But tackle Joe Staley was more pointed still.
“We have all the talent in the world,” he said. “We’ve been doing dumb stuff and they took advantage of it . . . Penalties, dumb blocks, dumb techniques and dumb schemes.”
“Dumb schemes.” Let that one roll around in your head for awhile. And remember, that’s one of their best players dropping the hammer on their whole season.