Playing against a diminished Rams’ team, the 49ers beat their new in-state rivals 34-13 at the L.A. Coliseum and in the process the 49ers sent a clear message. While the 49ers are now going home after a 6-10 season, the playoff-bound Rams have to wonder what it will be like to face this 49ers team next season.
After the 49ers flattened Los Angeles on Sunday in a game that was never close, the 49ers’ fifth straight win has to make the Rams believe that the real rival for repeating as division champs next year will be the upstart 49ers. The Cardinals could lose their head coach, Bruce Arians, to the television booth and quarterback Carson Palmer, who might retire.
The Seahawks are a mess; they are struggling offensively, despite MVP candidate Russell Wilson. Rumors are that Marin County’s own Pete Carroll, who’s 66, could retire. Also free safety Earl Thomas, who runs their vaunted defense, wants to play for Dallas.
The Rams turned everything around this year with the hiring of Sean McVay and the development of former Cal star Jared Goff. Now here come the 49ers, with an impressive quarterback of their own and a coach who taught McVay a lot of what he now knows about offense.
Yes, the Rams sat all of their star players, including Goff, running back Todd Gurley and most of their offensive line, and the 49ers still won with ridiculous ease.
McVay, as he prowled the sidelines, must have been thinking about the beast the 49ers will be next year, when they return many of their injured players and lay another draft class upon the talent they already have. The 49ers also might have as much $116 million available under the salary cap.
It all might signal a significant shift in the division where recent powers Seattle and Arizona are fading and Los Angeles and San Francisco could rise up to take their place.
The 49ers still have evaluations to make and needs to address. Pass rusher and the interior of their offensive line will be tops on the list. The 49ers will have plenty ammunition to fill those positions with an abundance of draft picks and plenty of free-agent dollars.
They also have a history, however brief, of impressive talent evaluation. In free agency, the team signed receivers Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin, along with nose tackle Earl Mitchell and linebacker Brock Coyle. All have contributed mightily to this surprising season.
Their draft class includes safety Adrian Colbert, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, tight end George Kittle, receiver Trent Taylor, linebacker Reuben Foster, defensive end Solomon Thomas, and running back Matt Brieda to mention a few. And often players make their biggest improvement from year one to year two.
It all means things are changing out West. And the 49ers easy win over the Rams continues to signal that the 49ers will figure prominently in the division.