SANTA CLARA — Chip Kelly’s new-look 49ers smothered the Los Angeles Rams Monday night, winning the season opener 28-0 at Levi’s Stadium.
Behind a remodeled offensive line, Kelly dialed up run play after run play in his 49ers debut and Los Angeles had no answer. Carlos Hyde and Blaine Gabbert gashed the highly regarded Rams defensive line for a combined 131 yards on 31 carries. Hyde punched in an 11-yard touchdown in the first quarter; Shaun Draughn raced into the left corner for another in the second putting San Francisco up 14-0 at the half.
Defensively, the 49ers flew to the football using an array of pass rushing stunts and tight coverage to completely shut down the Rams. Out of frustration, Todd Gurley (17 carries, 47 yards) was cited for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for throwing the ball at the 49ers defensive line. NaVorro Bowman picked off a pass tipped by Quinton Dial. The Rams’ drive chart went as follows: punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, turnover on downs. It was the 49ers’ first shutout win since Week 4 of 2012.
Jeff Fisher’s decision to start Case Keenum (17/35, 130 yards, 2 interceptions, 34.2 QB rating) instead of No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff completely backfired in Week 1. Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil deserves a ton of credit for this in his 49ers debut. Ahmad Brooks and Arik Armstead pushed the pocket on a regular basis, while rookie chess piece Ronald Blair and safety Eric Reid blitzed freely on third downs, setting up punts. It’s one game, but it was an encouraging effort and the type that will be needed with Cam Newton and Russell Wilson looming in Weeks 2 and 3.
The Rams seized the momentum late in the third quarter on a 28-yard punt return by Tavon Austin. But a few plays later on third-down, Keenum fired an interception directly into the arms of linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong. Gabbert turned the pick into six points on an 8-yard touchdown pass to Vance McDonald. Aaron Donald was later ejected for ripping off Quinton Patton’s helmet and bumping into an official. He threw his mouthpiece 30 yards on his walk toward the tunnel. Hyde added a 1-yard touchdown late in the fourth to put the score at 28-0.
While the 49ers’ rushing attack and Gabbert’s legs were impressive, his arm was a trouble spot in Week 1. On separate third and fourth down plays, Gabbert threw the football short of the marker, resulting in a punt and a turnover on downs. He missed Jeremy Kerley over the middle of the field in the first quarter for what would’ve been a 40-yard gain. Glaringly, Rams defenders dropped multiple interceptions. Gabbert finished 22-for-35, 170 yards, 1 touchdown and no interceptions. Kerley emerged as his top target (7 catches, 61 yards) and Patton had a strong second half (5 catches, 61 yards).
But the rushing attack and a full 11-man effort from the defense widely overshadowed Gabbert’s play. It’s the exact formula GM Trent Baalke and Kelly said they were going to play with in 2016. The Rams knew they were going to see a ton of run plays from Kelly’s offense and they still couldn’t stop it. The blowout got so large, backup Colin Kaepernick entered the game for garbage time snaps.
The 49ers (1-0) will have a short week of rest before traveling to Carolina to take on the Panthers in Week 2.