There are three things for certain in life: death, taxes and a San Francisco 49ers thriller when it's all on the line (remember Week 17 of 2019?)
Nonetheless, after a bleek start, the San Francisco 49ers managed a colossal second-half comeback in their regular season finale against the Los Angeles Rams. After trailing 17-0 at one point and a trip to overtime, the 49ers pulled off a 27-24 victory and finally punched their ticket into the postseason. Sunday's win marked the sixth-straight victory over Los Angeles.
"Our guys are real resilient," Kyle Shanahan said postgame. "I've been very proud of them and I'm just glad that we get to go into the tournament and be a part of it. Regardless to what happened today, I was going to be very proud of those guys. Our goal every year is to get into the tournament so you've got a chance at the ultimate one. It's real hard when you have a season where you lose four in a row. Most places when you lose four in a row, it's tough to keep guys together. Just the character and our building and the players and just everyone around, it makes it easy and you can focus on your job and keep fighting and that's what our guys have done all year."
Here are a few takeaways from the win:
Forgetful First Half
Simply put, the Rams dominated the entire first half in every statistical category, including taking a 14-point lead. Matthew Stafford and his connection with Cooper Kupp was perfect through the first half, as the two connected on five passes for 84 yards, including a 46-yarder that moved Los Angeles into 49ers territory on their opening drive.
The Rams were 7-of-10 on third down while amassing 149 yards of offense. Stafford had just one incompleted pass on his 16 attempts for 153 yards and connected with tight end Tyler Higbee in the end zone twice.
San Francisco's run defense was stout in the first half, only allowing 14 yards on 15 carries.
Los Angeles' defense didn't let up on San Francisco in the first half allowing the 49ers just 22 net yards. As the 49ers looked to be hitting their stride, Jimmy Garoppolo was hit on a deep pass intended for Travis Benjamin that floated in the air to a trio of Rams defensive backs and was intercepted by safety Taylor Rapp.
Fortunately for San Francisco, the Rams failed to score points off the turnover. San Francisco recorded just three first downs prior to a final two-minute drive that set up a Robbie Gould 42-yard field goal. The 49ers possessed the ball for just 10:07 compared to the Rams 19:53.
Stafford was sacked twice in the first half. The first on 3rd-and-16 at the 49ers 15 yard line by Arik Armstead which led to a Los Angeles punt. The second ended their final drive of the half in a sack split by Armstead and Nick Bosa.
Second Half Turnaround
San Francisco's offense finally found a groove coming out of the second half, finding the red zone (and end zone) for the first time of the contest. Garoppolo made big throws to Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, who was wide open for 31 yards to move San Francisco into Rams territory. The 7-play, 75-yard drive was capped off with a Samuel 16-yard run where the wideout bounced outside to right pylon for the score.
Samuel now has 14 total touchdowns on the season (six receiving, eight rushing). His eight rushing touchdowns are the most by a wide receiver in NFL history.
The third-year receiver didn't stop there. After forcing a Rams punt on their first drive of the second half, San Francisco got back to their run game, posting 10-straight runs to move the 49ers downfield. On 1st-and-10 from the Rams 24, Samuel took a handoff and threw a 24-yard touchdown to a wide open Jauan Jennings to tie the game at 17.
Emmanuel Moseley notched his third-career interception and first of the season on the Rams ensuring play. Stafford dialed up a deep pass intended for wide receiver Ben Skowronek as Moseley leapt up ahead of the wideout to come down with the pick.
San Francisco's defense wrecked a large portion of the Rams potential comeback. The unit consistently pressured Stafford, forcing several incomplete passes. In Los Angeles' second drive of the fourth quarter, Fred Warner and Arden Key split a sack to give San Francisco the ball again.
Momentum swung in San Francisco's favor as the offense managed to march downfield on a number of runs and crucial third-down receptions. However, a throw from Garoppolo intended for George Kittle in scoring position was bobbled and intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
The costly mistake allowed Los Angeles to retake the lead with two and a half minutes on the clock after the Rams drove downfield for a Stafford to Kupp score.
With under a minute and a half left in the game, the 49ers miraculously bounced back in the two-minute drive to tie the game up. Garoppolo connected with Aiyuk for 31 yards and two plays later found Samuel on an elusive 43-yard catch-and-run. Three plays later, Garoppolo connected with Jennings in the end zone to help tie the game and force overtime.
"It really helps scoring at the end of the second quarter, that was big," Shanahan continues. "It helped winning the coin toss which we hadn't won many this year. Timed out right with that three points for us to start with it and once that first drive in the third quarter happened, it was kinda back to normal. They came out really well. I thought our D was playing really good. They were just so good. Stafford was unbelievable on third down, especially in that first half. Offense I think took a little bit to settle down. Wanted to hit them with some play actions and stuff. Their front is tough. But our guys settled down and did a hell of a job."
San Francisco received the opening kick and managed to drive down the field into since their own 10 yard line, including a muscling 34-yard pickup by Jennings. Needing a touchdown to win the game, the 49ers couldn't capitalize in the end zone, leading to a Robbie Gould field goal.
With a touchdown, Los Angeles had a chance to steal San Francisco's postseason hopes. A questionable third-down defensive pass interference penalty gave the Rams a fresh set of downs and another opportunity for a win.
Three plays later on 1st-and-10, Stafford dialed up another deep pass, this time up the left sideline intended for Odell Beckham Jr. Third-round rookie Ambry Thomas made a leaping grab ahead of the Pro Bowl wideout for game sealing interception to secure
Performances of Note
Aiyuk led San Francisco's pass catchers with his first 100-yard game of the season, a season-high 100 yards on six receptions.
Samuel finished the day hauling in four receptions for 95 yards and a passing and rushing touchdown. He also recorded 45 yards rushing on the day.
Jennings made two crucial third-down receptions, including his 34-yard overtime grab. He hauled in career-highs in targets (7), receptions (6), receiving yards (94) and touchdowns (2).
Elijah Mitchell led San Francisco's backfield with 21 carries for 85x yards.
San Francisco's defense finished the game with five total sacks on the day, while limiting Cam Akers and Co. to 64 yards on the ground for just 2.2 yards per carry.
Punter Mitch Wishnowsky left the game with a concussion and did not return. Gould took over punter duties in Wishnowsky's absence and recorded two for an average of 45 yards.
Rookie safety Talanoa Hufanga left the game with a knee injury and did not return.
Fellow safety Jaquiski Tartt also left the game with a groin injury and also did not return. Their availability for the upcoming wild card matchup will be assessed this week.