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After harrowing first half, 49ers storm back to clinch playoff berth with sixth-straight win over Rams



© Kirby Lee | 2022 Jan 9

The San Francisco 49ers will not watch the playoffs from their couch this year.

With a 27-24 win over the Los Angeles Rams, Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers have made the playoffs and beat the Rams for the sixth-straight time.

It was a ruthless first half from Los Angeles. Sean McVay dialed up a gameplan which couldn’t have cared less about how effective his run game was. His team carried the ball 15 times for 14 yards, but that seemed to play into what McVay want to do, which was churn the clock.

By running the ball ineffectively, the Rams dominated the time of possession and continued to convert third downs and move the ball by abusing DeMeco Ryans’ soft zone coverages, and the mismatches of Dontae Johnson or a linebacker on Cooper Kupp.

Kupp, who is having the best wide receiving season in the NFL, had five catches for 84 yards. Then, in the red zone, Tyler Higbee tore the 49ers apart, catching one touchdown on a beautiful, fourth-and-one play design that fooled the entirety of the defense, followed by a fade that he snatched over Ambry Thomas.

Los Angeles jumped out to a 17-0 lead, at one point leading the time of possession by more than 10 minutes.

But with 45 seconds left in the first half, Matthew Stafford, who was excellent to begin the game, was sacked by both Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead on third-and-one.

That was a fairly clear turning point, as the 49ers burned their first timeout and started a drive with 38 seconds remaining in the half at their own 15.

What followed was an excellent drive from Jimmy Garoppolo that got the 49ers into field goal range. He found Brandon Aiyuk on a skinny post which he’s patented this season. An Aiyuk-Samuel mini hook-and-ladder was followed by a short completion to JaMycal Hasty who stayed in bounds, forcing the final timeout to be burned.

Garoppolo came right back to Aiyuk on the next play for 26 yards, setting up a half-ending field goal.

Because the 49ers deferred, they received the ball in the second half, at which point they embarked on a drive which showed them at their best.

A 13-yard completion to Hasty on third-and-three opened the floodgates. Then Aiyuk found himself totally uncovered for a 31-yard gain and Deebo Samuel, the clear MVP of this team, ran a 16-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to a single score.

The Rams, who had been so effective at converting on third downs until the end of that first half, were forced into a three-and-out.

What came after was a bludgeoning running attack with Mitchell and Samuel. Both continued to turn two-yarders into eight-yarders.

When that earned the 49ers another trip to the red zone, it was Samuel who got the ball in his hands, this time as a thrower. He found a wide open Jauan Jennings, who bobbled, then recovered — and likely praised the heavens — to tie the game at 17.

The momentum was unquestionably in San Francisco’s favor. The defense was swarming, the run game was working, and it felt like the Rams had no answers.

Stafford was sacked, then threw a dreadful interception to Emmanuel Moseley.

That provided the 49ers with a chance to take the lead. Instead, a second-down drop by Aiyuk on a ball thrown a bit behind him loomed large, until the end. It was a guaranteed conversion, and after Jauan Jennings fell coming out of his break, San Francisco had to punt.

The defense remained immense and forced another punt after sacking Stafford again. Here it was again; another chance for the 49ers to take the lead.

And for most of that drive, it looked like San Francisco would do just that. Another absurd play from Deebo Samuel ripped off 31 yards and pushed them to the Los Angeles 33-yard line.

Then Jimmy Garoppolo nearly threw the game away in the most literal sense with this interception.

What followed was excellence from Cooper Kupp, who the 49ers — and everyone else in the NFL — have had no answers for all year.

He took an 18-yard carry, then caught a one-handed 30-yarder down the left sideline over Jimmie Ward. To end that drive, he toe-tapped his way to a lead-taking back corner touchdown. Kupp finished with seven catches for 118 yards and a touchdown.

The 49ers responded with a Garoppolo sack at their own 17-yard line, and punted. The Rams then opted for the most conservative of offensive approaches, rushing three times ineffectively to make sure the 49ers burned all three timeouts.

What came next was the pinnacle of Garoppolo. After almost losing them the game earlier, he responded with a stunning, 88-yard drive, which, as usual came on the back of Samuel, and a 43-yard pass play. It was capped off by this wide open touchdown to Jauan Jennings.

The game/season ball has to go to Samuel. He finished with a passing touchdown, a rushing touchdown and 164 combined yards.

His effort set up that game-tying touchdown, and was rewarded with some cowardice from Sean McVay. After the Rams got the ball back and Stafford took another sack, McVay didn’t use his last timeout, and opted for overtime.

At this point, you know how that overtime period ended. This one was highlighted by Jennings, who has taken on that Kendrick Bourne, clutch pass-catching role in earnest.

That game-tying touchdown was far from his best work. In overtime, he was omnipresent.

On third-and-six — after a Daniel Brunskill hold put the 49ers in a second-and-12 situation — Jennings ripped off a 34-yard catch and run to the Los Angeles 24-yard line. The very next third down, Jennings showed up with an eight-yard reception.

It did not result in a walk-off touchdown. Instead, San Francisco failed to put the ball in the end zone, taking a field goal with 2:45 remaining. It should be noted that Samuel was hobbled on the end of that final drive, but that proved inconsequential.

This game ended with Ambry Thomas, the harangued rookie, picking off Stafford deep, and sealing a second playoff berth in five years for Shanahan’s 49ers.

Regardless of how it happened, the 49ers are in. There was no Trent Williams, and that showed up countless times, with the Rams making mince meat of Colton McKivitz in both the run and pass game. No K’Waun Williams was just as glaring, with Dontae Johnson’s troubles against Kupp showing up frequently.

Despite that 17-0 deficit, their ownership of McVay’s Rams remains intact, and all that early-season drama and nonsense has been rendered moot. They’re in the dance.