Today the Los Angeles Rams have the chance to avenge their loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the first game of the season. Rams fans will remember the Niners shut out the Rams 28-0. A lot has changed in the past 15 weeks.
Los Angeles has a different head coach and starting quarterback. In fact they have a different back-up QB. A few weeks ago the first pick in the NFL Draft, Jared Goff, got his first start as a pro and this week interim head coach John Fassel and his staff have activated Sean Mannion to be the back up should anything happen to Goff.
On Thursday Fassel was asked about whether Mannion was excited to be activated. ““He’s been anxious since the first game of the season, when he was active, and he’s hung in there the last 15 weeks, and abided his time. He has been in the quarterback room with (QB) Case (Keenum) and Jared every day – morning, noon, and night. He’s earned it. I’m sure if he has the opportunity, he’ll perform very well.”
Fans may remember — or at least St. Louis fans will remember — Mannion did very well at the end of last season, considering it was one game. Fans have been clamoring to see him play ever since.
But Goff is the starter and because he has cleared the NFL-mandated concussion protocol, he will be under center once the game begins. Of Goff, Fassel said, ““I’m hoping to see improvement in, really everything – accuracy, decision-making, getting out of bounds, sliding, even the little things that are intricate to the quarterback position. He’s been a great leader, so that isn’t anything that’s ever been an issue. He’s studied. I think just in general, improvement in throwing the football, and making decisions with the ball in his hands.”
The rookie QB echoed those sentiments during Thursday’s post-practice press conference, when asked if he agreed with the coach. ““Yeah, I think it can be hard. But he’s right, I do need to protect myself a little bit better. Again, if I had seen him, I probably would have protected myself, but he kind of came out of nowhere there. But he’s right, I do need to protect myself a little better and try to balance the going-for-its and protecting my body.”
The “him” was Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman who came across the field and tackled Goff hard, hitting him in the head in the process. “I was running down the sideline, didn’t see Sherman, if I had seen him, I probably would have gone out of bounds. Goff added, “He kind of came out of nowhere. He made a hell of a play, after watching it on film, he came all the way from the other side of the field.”
As bad as the Rams season has been, 4-10 so far, the 49ers have had it worse. Their record is 1-13, their only win coming in the first game of the season, against Los Angeles. The best that can be said about the Niners is that their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick brought a lot of attention to the team with his protest during the National Anthem.
Despite San Francisco’s record, Kaepernick still has some skills. On Thursday Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said, “Colin presents a very mobile quarterback. He’s had some really big runs this year, he has a very strong arm — you can see that baseball product in him, he was a really good baseball player, too, growing up. He presents a very, very big challenge in the run game and the pass game.”
The Niners run game has gotten much better. Williams talked about the Niners running back Carlos Hyde. “I saw a stat the other day that came across my desk that, from about Week 11 on, he’s been averaging over 100 yards rushing, six yards per carry. He’s a person that, no matter if you do have a guy unblocked, he runs over them – and good running backs do that, when, all of a sudden, the scheme has broken down offensively, he tattoos you.”
In December Hyde is averaging 118.6 yards per game rushing and 44.6 yards receiving. The Rams defense will have their hands full trying to contain him.
The Niners record is misleading though. They have lost 13 in a row, but in five of those losses they scored 20 or more points. In five of those games they scored between 15 and 19 points. On the other hand the Rams have scored 20 or more points in only three games. They had 32 in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They are averaging just 15 points per game. San Francisco averages 20 points per game.
Most analysts are picking the Rams to win this one, especially because the 49ers defense has been thinned out by injuries, but it will be close.
The Rams will have the benefit of a couple extra days rest and practice. Their last game was Thursday, December 15, when they played the Seahawks in Seattle and lost, 24-3. If they expect to win the Rams will need to score at least three touchdowns and limit the Niners to just two TDs or less. If the Los Angeles offense can keep the defense off the field for most of the game, they have a chance of winning. And for once they have to keep Pro Bowl punter Johnny Hekker on the bench. He’s averaging just over six punts per game.
We can expect Aaron Donald will have another great game, but he needs to keep his temper under control. The Pro Bowl defensive end cost his team 30 yards last week when he threw a flag back at the official after being called for a facemask penalty. If they can stop the 49ers offense, it will lessen Donald’s frustration.
As for the Rams running game, they’re still working on a break out game for Todd Gurley. Defenses have keyed on him all season and the offense has not figured out a way to get around that. The best way of course is to have a good day passing the ball. And for that to happen Jared Goff has to have a great day and his receivers have to catch the ball.
The importance of these last two games isn’t lost on Gurley. He told the press on Thursday, “A lot of guys know what they need to do. We know a lot of guys are playing for jobs. We just want to go out there and not lay down, and just try to get these wins for sure.”
One of the problems that has plagued the Rams offense is dropped passes. That’s like taking points off the scoreboard in some cases. Lucky for them the 49ers have the worst drop percentage in the league.
There will be a big crowd at the Coliseum today and it will be a festive holiday atmosphere.
Bring a light jacket. The forecast says we will have a sunny day before game time, but the temperature will only get to 58°f. The game will be broadcast on your local Fox affiliate if you plan to stay warm at home and tune in. For those of you out shopping today, you can probably catch the game on your smart phones.
Wide receiver Bradley Marquez has been placed on the reserve/injured list and will miss the game.
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UPDATE: The Rams blew a 14-point lead in the last minutes of the game, with an interception of a Jared Goff pass by Rashard Robinson of the 49ers, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion. If the Rams defense had stopped any one of those three scoring plays by San Francisco, they would have won the game. There really was no excuse for losing this game.
Afterwards Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson told the media, “The last few possessions, it seemed like we gave up, the whole team, including myself.”
Wide receiver Tavon Austin scored his first TD at home. “It felt good to finally score my first one at home. I had some great blocks. It was a great play at the right time. I saw the lane, and just used it. ” As for losing at home, Austin echoed Johnson’s thoughts. “Basically, just making dumb mistakes like we’ve been doing previously. Not making the big play when we need to. Basically, just losing focus. I think we probably gave it up, and thought the game was over. But, it wasn’t.”
Quarterback Jared Goff said, “I felt real good, I felt real confident in where we were,” but he added, “Ultimately, the offense needs to play better. It starts with the quarterback, it starts with me, and as a leader of this team, I need to be better. Better than I was today, for sure.”
Wide receiver Kenny Britt achieved a 1,000-yard season for the first time in his eight-year career and was happy he finally reached that milestone, but of today’s game he simply said, “We got to find a way to finish, just period. That’s always been our problem throughout the season, is just finishing. That’s what we got to do.”
Interim head coach John Fassel said, “Clearly a tough loss. Seemed like it’s a little bit more of the same and I feel bad for our players that really work hard during the week and commit to each other to keep the season going and to fight hard. It’s tough to know what to say after the game when you’ve got a two-score lead when it’s six minutes left in the game. Kind of a replica of the Miami game where we just couldn’t convert third downs into first downs on offense and then just couldn’t get off the field in critical situations on defense. We started decent, how we wanted, and then obviously in the third quarter we just couldn’t get anything going on offense, I think our defense got tired and I think that caught up to us at the end of the game. Much respect to our players for hanging in there. We’ve got one more week and I’m sure they’ll bounce back and be resilient, but it’s sure tough to know what to say because it seems like it’s kind of the same thing that’s happened.”
He also said, “You look at San Francisco and they’ve been struggling on defense. We’ve been struggling on offense. So a struggling defense was better than a struggling offense today. I’ll also look at the tape to know exactly why, but Todd (Gurley) made a big emphasis on running the football and I think he averaged 2.9 a carry. Just not good enough. We tried to tinker a little bit with the lineup just to get a spark, try to find something and it just wasn’t there.”
Niners QB Colin Kaepernick, who has taken a lot of heat from fans this season for his protests during the National Anthem and the team’s dismal record, praised his team and guard Zane Beadles in particular.“We kept fighting, this team kept fighting. Our defense had a great game today, gave us the opportunity to score early, gave us the ball back at the end of the game to give us opportunities to go score. Zane rallied the offensive line on the sidelines saying, before those last two drives, ‘Forget everything that’s happened up until this point. Let’s play football the way we know how, let’s go get this win,’ and I think they responded really well to that. Gave us the time to get the ball out, our receivers made great plays. We were able to go get the win.”
When asked about the two-point conversion that sealed the win, Kapernick said, “I had a feeling that we were going to go for two, and I was excited when he said that we were going for it. I think the whole offense was, the whole team was and the play he called was a play everybody on offense knew was going to get called, we had great confidence in, and it worked out great for us.”
Chip Kelly, the 49ers head coach, said, “I’m just really happy for our guys. They competed, and they’ve competed for a while. I think they’ve done a great job of just focusing on the task at hand. That’s what we’ve asked them to do, to concentrate on what they can control – they control their attitude, they control their efforts. They had a really good week of training this week, and I’m just happy for them that they had a chance to win the football game.”
Photos by Claudia Gestro
Top photo: The Melonheads have made themselves fixtures at the games. Win or lose they will be in the tailgating
parking lots cooking up a feast and celebrating the Rams. They will be there during the game as well.
Tim Forkes started as a writer on a small alternative newspaper in Milwaukee called the Crazy Shepherd. Writing about entertainment, he had the opportunity to speak with many people in show business, from the very famous to the people struggling to find an audience. In 1992 Tim moved to San Diego, CA and pursued other interests, but remained a freelance writer. Upon arrival in Southern California he was struck by how the elected government officials and business were so intertwined, far more so than he had witnessed in Wisconsin. His interest in entertainment began to wane and the business of politics took its place. He had always been interested in politics, his mother had been a Democratic Party official in Milwaukee, WI, so he sat down to dinner with many of Wisconsin’s greatest political names of the 20th Century: William Proxmire and Clem Zablocki chief among them. As a Marine Corps veteran, Tim has a great interest in veteran affairs, primarily as they relate to the men and women serving and their families. As far as Tim is concerned, the military-industrial complex has enough support. How the men and women who serve are treated is reprehensible, while in the military and especially once they become veterans. Tim would like to help change that.