The Los Angeles Rams closed out the regular season on Sunday, hosting the San Francisco 49ers with a division title on the line.
Things got off to a great start for the Rams as they jumped out to a 17-0 first-half lead over their division rivals.
From there though, the 49ers did what they have done so many times to the Rams over the years, and that’s dominate the line of scrimmage to take over the game.
The 49ers erased that 17-0 deficit rather quickly in the third quarter, scoring back-to-back touchdowns to tie the game. After a Jalen Ramsey interception, the Rams then put together a touchdown drive late to take the lead and then needed just one stop to close it out.
Instead, the 49ers went 88 yards on just five plays in one minute to tie the game and send it to overtime. They then got the ball first in overtime and kicked a field goal.
The Rams had one final drive to not only clinch the NFC West, but also ensure the 49ers didn’t make the playoffs. It ended with an interception by Matthew Stafford and 27-24 loss though, so San Francisco will be making the postseason.
Luckily for the Rams, the Arizona Cardinals also lost to the Seattle Seahawks, so L.A. still clinch the NFC West with a record at 12-5.
Before I get into how the playoffs have been laid out for the Rams though, let me break down what went wrong in this one.
One play shifted momentum
The shift in momentum in this game comes down to one play for me.
In the first half of this game, the Rams looked like a Super Bowl team. They began the game with a nine-minute drive that ended in a field goal. The defense then forced a punt, and the offense responded with a six-minute touchdown drive.
After another 49ers punt, Brandon Powell had an excellent return to set the offense up in the red zone, and they capitalized with another touchdown (Tyler Higbee scored both) and before you knew it, the score was 17-0.
Jimmy Garapolo then made arguably his worst throw of the season and Taylor Rapp intercepted it, so not only were the Rams up by 17, but they also had the ball on what could’ve been the final drive before the end of the half.
After getting a first down, the Rams were faced with a third-and-one at their own 42-yard line with 49 seconds to go in the half. If they get that first down, there’s a solid chance of getting into field goal range to add more points before the end of the half. At worst, they keep the ball after from San Francisco to end the half.
The way things were going, in my opinion, the Rams could’ve gotten that first down by handing the ball off to Sony Michel. Instead though, they came out with an empty-back set, which means the whole world knew they were throwing.
If you want to call a passing play, fine. The run wasn’t working well in the first half and Stafford had converted on a number of third-down throws.
But at least put a running back in the backfield so there’s a threat of a run. The Rams didn’t do that though, so the 49ers defensive linemen reared back and knew it was time to get after the quarterback. The result was a sack of Stafford and a punt by the Rams, allowing the 49ers to put together a quick drive to get a field goal before the half.
While that play didn’t lose the game for the Rams, I think it was a huge momentum shifter. You got to knock a team like the 49ers out when they’re down, not give them life and momentum going into the halftime locker room.
Kyle Shanahan has blueprint to beat Rams
Let me just state the obvious here and that’s that Kyle Shanahan clearly has the blueprint for beating this Rams team. The Rams have now dropped six straight games to the 49ers, including both this season, and the way in which they lost has pretty much been the same in all of them.
Offensively, the 49ers pounded the ball on the ground in the second half, putting together methodical drives that took time off the clock to keep the Rams offense off the field. And then when they did throw it, they got the ball out of Garaolpolo’s hands quickly to neutralize L.A.’s pass rush.
While the 49ers have the personnel to execute this with a strong offensive line, a physical running back in Elijah Mitchell and an even more physical receiver who is also a running back in Deebo Samuel, the Rams have had trouble stopping the off-tackle run all season. So that is something that teams will replicate against them moving forward.
And then on the other side of the ball, the 49ers did a great job of stopping the Rams’ run game, which had been rolling as of late with Sony Michel. That forced the Rams into being a drop-back offense, and the 49ers have the pass rush to get after Stafford, as they did basically the entire second half.
So while other teams may not have the personnel that the 49ers do to execute this blueprint, it’s clear that San Francisco does and that could be concerning if they make a run in the postseason.
Cooper Kupp concludes historic season
Cooper Kupp had another great game for the Rams, finishing with seven receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown in addition to an 18-yard carry on the ground.
While Kupp did not break the NFL receiving record, he still won the triple-crown with 145 receptions for 1947 yards and 16 touchdowns. A historic season, and the most important part is that he stayed healthy the whole time.
Happy for Cam Akers
Speaking of health, the Rams got back running back Cam Akers on Sunday in what many view as a medical miracle after he tore his Achilles just six months ago.
Akers got a handful of snaps, carrying the ball five times for three yards with three receptions for 10 yards.
While those numbers don’t stand out at all, I’m just so happy for Akers that he was able to get back on the field after all the hard work he put in throughout the season to get to this position.
Also, just getting his feet wet was important for the Rams as Akers is someone they will go to even more in the playoffs. Even though Michel has been running the ball well, he doesn’t have the pass-catching ability that Akers does, which should lead to a quality combo out of the backfield in the postseason.
Up next for the Rams…
Alright, now that the postseason is over, let me get into what’s ahead for the Rams because that’s all that matters at this point.
With the loss, the Rams dropped to the No. 4 seed in the NFC, which means they will host the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football in Wild Card Weekend.
These are two teams that are obviously very familiar with each other having played twice and splitting the first two matchups. They seem to be two teams headed in opposite directions though as the Rams come in winners of five of their last six while the Cardinals come in having lost four of their last five.
Obviously anything can happen in the postseason and Kyler Murray is still a fantastic quarterback, but that offense just hasn’t looked the same since DeAndre Hopkins got hurt.
Also, just like Shanahan has the blueprint to beat McVay, McVay has the blueprint to beat Kliff Kingsbury as he is 5-1 against him.
So while the Rams can’t take the Cardinals lightly, I definitely think this is a favorable matchup for L.A. compared to the 49ers or some of the other NFC playoff teams.