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Silence of the Rams: 49ers Still Have Champs’ Number, Win 24-9

The Los Angeles Rams may have earned some catharsis by defeating the San Francisco 49ers in last year’s NFC Championship Game, but in the regular season, the 49ers continue to be the one question the Rams can’t answer, favored or not.

San Francisco has swept the Rams each of the last three regular seasons, and even entering as underdogs against the defending Super Bowl champions Monday night, flummoxed Los Angeles once again, leading the entirety of the game in a 24-9 victory.

Big-Play Mavens

The 49ers trailed for a grand total of one possession, and that was only because the Rams received the opening kickoff and scored a field goal on that initial drive. The rest of the game, the 49ers held the advantage on the scoreboard, thanks to bigger plays at opportune moments.

Jeff Wilson Jr. was the man to erase the Rams’ early lead, breaking through the middle of the offensive line for a 32-yard touchdown run on San Francisco’s first possession. His run was an impressive early play coming against the Rams’ defensive front, but it paled in comparison to a play made by teammate Deebo Samuel three possessions later.

Samuel took what began as a short 5-yard completion, then shook one defender, juked two others, and finally shook off one more man downfield on a 57-yard touchdown that served as the game’s biggest highlight. It also helped Samuel finish as the game’s top producer in terms of yards rushing or receiving, with a season-best 115 yards on six catches.

Even the league’s most famous fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, got involved with a big play. He ripped off a 35-yard catch to begin a San Francisco drive in the third quarter, showing off some impressive speed after the catch to outpace a couple of Rams defenders down the sideline until he could be pushed out of bounds. The 49ers nearly finished the drive with a touchdown to tight end George Kittle — which was overturned upon review — but still converted a chip-shot field goal.

So Close, Yet So (Very, Very) Far

Los Angeles, on three occasions, authored a drive of double-digit plays, for at least 54 yards. Two of those drives reached the San Francisco 11 or closer, and a third was just a yard outside the red zone. The Rams couldn’t finish any of them off with a touchdown, settling for field goals every time.

The kicks left anywhere from 9-15 points on the board, any amount of which would have secured L.A. a lead for much of the second half. Instead, the failed opportunities were indicative of overall offensive struggles in the game for every Rams player not named Cooper Kupp. While Kupp had his third game in four weeks with at least 11 catches and 95 yards (he had 14 for 122 on Monday night), the rest of the Rams combined for just 18 catches and 132 yards.

It didn’t go much better on the ground. Taking away an 11-yard carry by receiver Brandon Powell, L.A. gained just 46 yards rushing on 17 carries. Contrasting the 49ers’ big-play proficiency, L.A. did not have a play longer than 15 yards until the fourth quarter — an 18-yard catch by Kupp and the team’s longest play of the game. Overall, the Rams’ offense was held to just 257 yards, just 14 more than their season-low total in a Week 1 loss to Buffalo.

49ers’ Secondary Passes Prove-It Game

The 49ers boasted the league’s best secondary entering Week 4, and they won’t be ceding that spot heading into Week 5. San Francisco had allowed an average of 148 yards per game through three weeks, albeit against some of the league’s weaker passing games in Chicago, Seattle, and Denver. San Francisco faced a much tougher test on Monday.

Throughout the game, the 49ers contained the Rams’ passing game. While Kupp had his usual eye-popping stat line, overall the Rams remained bottled up, and Stafford needed three drives in the fourth quarter, with his team trailing, to break 200 yards in the game.

And just like San Francisco’s offense getting big plays at opportune moments, the 49ers’ secondary came through with the play that helped lock up their win, when safety Talanoa Hufanga picked off Stafford and took it 50 yards to the end zone for a 24-9 lead with 6:27 to play.

Speaking of Stafford, a Super Bowl hangover or offseason elbow surgery might not have anything to do with it, but he has struggled to begin the 2022 season, particularly with turnovers, and those struggles did not let up. Hufanga’s interception was the sixth off of Stafford this season, the most of any quarterback in the NFL, and two other interceptions were dropped by the 49ers’ Tashaun Gibson Sr. and Fred Warner. In addition, Stafford lost a fumble on the drive following the pick-six.

The Rams’ offensive line did Stafford no favors, surrendering seven sacks in the game. Stafford has now been sacked 16 times this season, among the most in the NFL.

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