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49ers-Rams final score: Strong defense, improved passing game, penalties are the difference

The San Francisco 49ers defeated the St. Louis Rams by a final score of 23-13. We take a quick first look at the big 49ers win.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers rolled to victory on Sunday, defeating the St. Louis Rams by a final score of 23-13. The 49ers couldn't quite put the Rams away early, but stronger second half execution, and plenty of Rams penalties and miscues turned this one into a laugher.

The big story heading into this game was the return of wide receiver Michael Crabtree. The 49ers welcomed back their star receiver for his first game since the Super Bowl. Crabtree got off to a slow start with a pair of penalties on the opening drive, but he settled down. He made his first catch for eight yards in the first half, and added a great 60 yard catch and run in the second half. Before the 49ers blew the game open late, Crabtree was on the field most of the day. We'll see what the final snap count says tomorrow.

The return of Crabtree seemed to make a huge difference for Anquan Boldin. The Rams had to pick and choose their spots with their cornerbacks, and it opened the door for a big performance from Boldin. He finished the game with nine catches for 98 yards, and was as important as anybody on third down.

Vernon Davis put together another solid effort as well, hauling in four catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. And really, the passing game looked more effective, even with Manningham not getting on the stat sheet. Colin Kaepernick still got away with some bad throws, but for the most part, things just looked a little more efficient. It's still a work in progress, but we're seeing signs of improvement. We saw some signs last week, and I think we saw more of it this week.

The 49ers defense deserves a ton of credit for keeping the Rams offense stifled much of the day. Kellen Clemens finished with 157 yards and an interception, while the Rams ground game finished with 102 yards. The pass rush netted three sacks, with Justin Smith having a whale of a game, even if he barely showed in the stat book. He forced Clemens up into a NaVorro Bowman sack, and another time he shoved an offensive lineman into Clemens to knock him over. It was your standard Justin Smith performance.

The only bad news to come out of this game was Joe Staley's knee injury. The 49ers left tackle suffered an injury to his right knee on the team's first possession. He was able to walk off under his own power, but he was ruled out after heading back to the locker room. We'll see what news we get on that.

Today's win is particularly big in light of the Arizona Cardinals loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The 49ers are a game up on Philadelphia and Arizona for the final wildcard spot. The Eagles would hold the tiebreaker on San Francisco if the 49ers had lost, so the win certainly helps.

It's a big week coming up for the 49ers as they host the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday. The 49ers are 2 1/2 back of the Seahawks (pending Monday Night Football). It's a stretch for the 49ers to win the division, but a Saints win would at least make things a little more interesting next week. Either way, the 49ers need a win to continue building toward a playoff berth. On to Week 14 and the Seahawks!