Alex Smith insists it's too early to guess whether he will return from a concussion in time to start…
49ers vs. Rams: Thumbs up and thumbs down
Thumbs down: Except that the 49ers shouldn't have won the game. They were outplayed throughout and out-gained 458-341 in total yards by the time this three-hour, 50-minute marathon finally came to an end as the first tie the National Football League has seen in four years – and the first the 49ers have played in since 1986. It also was the first game at Candlestick Park to end in a tie since 1972.
Thumbs down: And even after getting out-played, the 49ers still would have won this one if the usually reliable David Akers could have made a 41-yard field-goal attempt midway through the extra period – which is practically a routine kick for him. But not this time for Akers – he pushed the kick wide left – or this year for Akers, who now has missed six of his 21 field-goal attempts this season. So much for a sure shot at victory.
Thumbs up: You can't exactly call Colin Kaepernick the new Captain Comeback, but he almost deserved the moniker Sunday after the way he got his game together and rallied the 49ers from a 17-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to actually take the lead with eight minutes to play. After a rough start, Kaepernick ended 11 of 17 for 117 yards passing and rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown to give the 49ers a shot at victory after he replaced Alex Smith with the 49ers trailing 14-7 midway through the second period.
Thumbs down: Watching a sluggish Alex Smith taking the slow stroll to the locker room with 3:22 to play in the first half was a sorry scene for the 49ers, who finally saw their stalwart quarterback take one hit too many after remaining healthy through 28 consecutive starts. Smith had to leave the game after being diagnosed with a concussion after leading San Francisco to its first touchdown – which came on Smith's 14-yard pass to Michael Crabtree with 8:19 to play in the second quarter. Smith took three big hits during that drive, and he complained of blurred vision after coming off the field, when doctors took a look at Smith and quickly decided to pull him from the game.
Thumbs up: Give Crabtree some open space to create in the red zone and he is going to get into the end zone. Crabtree spun himself wide open over the middle on a third-and-7 play, then made several nifty moves to cut across the field and jaunt past the goal line for his third touchdown reception in the past two games. It was the fifth consecutive game Crabtree has recorded a touchdown catch against the Rams.
Thumbs up: The 49ers haven't had a whole lot of big plays on special teams this year, but their kickoff coverage came up with one of the biggest so far just when the team needed it most. After Kaepernick's 7-yard touchdown scamper brought the Niners within 17-14, Tramaine Brock and Larry Grant ganged up to tackle rookie returner Isaiah Pead on the ensuing kickoff, stripping him of the football. Darcel McBath picked up the loose ball and returned it to the St. Louis 20, setting up Frank Gore's touchdown run that put San Francisco ahead on the next play.
Thumbs up: And it was Gore who kept the 49ers in this game when it was slipping away. His 20-yard burst around the right edge put them ahead 21-17, but Gore was a primary reason the 49ers even made it to 17-14 on the series before, when he picked up a fumbled snap in the backfield on second-and-10 and powered 12 yards up the middle for a first down. Five plays later, Gore swept the right edge for a 3-yard gain on fourth-and-1 to keep that drive alive. On the next play, Gore turned a short pass from Kaepernick into an 11-yard gain, setting up Kap's touchdown run. Gore rushed for 97 yards and provided some stability for an offense in turmoil after Smith went down.
Thumbs down: It's acceptable to allow punter Johnny Hekker to fool you once with a pass completion out of punt formation, but to do it a second time in crunch time – to keep alive the go-ahead touchdown drive in the waning moments of regulation – is a gaffe of the highest order. Hekker's pass out of punt formation with St. Louis backed up at its 33-yard line was a high-risk play for the Rams – and something the 49ers should have been prepared for since Hekker threw for a first down when lined up in his own end zone late in the second quarter. Hekker's second pass went for 19 yards to Lance Kendricks and kept alive St. Louis' 14-play, 81-yard go-ahead touchdown drive just when it appeared both that drive and the Rams were doomed with five minutes to play.
Thumbs down: The Rams and the NFL's 28th-ranked offense driving 66 yards on six plays and 93 yards on seven plays for touchdowns on their first two offensive possessions of the game against the 49ers and the NFL's second-ranked defense? Are you kidding me? That's not exactly the way you would have expected the second half of the season to begin for San Francisco's heralded defensive 11.
Thumbs down: And speaking of bad starts… Gore losing a yard on first down and Smith getting sacked for a two-yard loss on second down on the game's first two plays was not exactly San Francisco's offense roaring out of its bye week. And Andy Lee's mishit, low-line drive punt for 41 yards two plays later was, by his standards, practically a shank.
Thumbs down: Chris Culliver, so strong in man coverage situations on the corner this season, bounces off rookie receiver Brian Quick and hits the ground as he tries to bump Quick off the line on St. Louis' first offensive possession. That leaves Quick wide open down the right sideline, where Sam Bradford hits him with a 36-yard touchdown pass for the game's first points before late-arriving safety Dashon Goldson can get there.
Thumbs up: On a down day for the San Francisco defense, All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman once again rose to the occasion, recording a game-high 13 tackles and plugging the middle often to temporarily halt a hard-charging St. Louis rushing game that bulled over the 49ers for 159 yards on the ground.
Thumbs up: Drilled by James Laurinaitis just as the ball arrived – sending Kaepernick's pass popping into the air – Vernon Davis somehow managed to stay with the ball and catch it as the St. Louis linebacker was driving him to the ground. Davis also had a crucial 17-yard reception over the middle on third-and-18 on San Francisco's second touchdown drive that gave the Niners a short fourth down to convert on the next play.
Thumbs down: Not a very good day behind the line of scrimmage for Niners defensive tackle Ray McDonald, who grabbed the facemask of Rams backup running back Daryl Richardson while he still was in the backfield, which only served to misdirect Richardson, who broke up the middle for a 32-yard gain, with 15 more yards being tacked on to the end of the run thanks to McDonald's penalty. That was the big-chunk play on St. Louis' second touchdown drive, and McDonald later was flagged for unnecessary roughness after a helmet-to-helmet hit on Bradford on third-and-10, a big play in St. Louis' third scoring drive.
Thumbs up: Aldon Smith displayed his big-play ability on the edge two plays later, slicing through traffic to dump Steven Jackson for a four-yard loss on second-and-goal, pushing the Rams back and forcing them to settle for a field goal.
Thumbs up: Smith also recorded both of San Francisco's sacks and had three tackles behind the line of scrimmage, but his second sack of Bradford with 24 seconds remaining in overtime – which basically guaranteed the game would end in a tie – left such a hollow feeling that even the usually demonstrative Smith couldn't get fired up enough to celebrate it.
Thumbs down: And that's how this dubious afternoon ended for the 49ers – with the only satisfaction being that they were able to get out of it without a loss. Instead, they got to experience just how very far away an ugly tie actually is from victory.
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