When it’s the 49ers and the Rams, the outcome is usually decided by which quarterback makes the fewest mistakes. It felt like the early drives for each team would tell the story of how this game would go. The Rams took advantage of miscommunication in the 49ers’ secondary that resulted in a field goal, while Nick Mullens had his pass batted in the air by Aaron Donald, resulting in an interception.
That would not be the half’s last turnover, as Jared Goff hit Richard Sherman in stride. That was the same route combination Sherman had picked off the quarterbacks in training camp. Sherm is a savvy veteran who knew Goff wasn’t throwing the vertical route. Unfortunately, San Francisco couldn’t turn it into points as Jeff Wilson Jr. fumbled on the next drive. The Niners defense held the Rams at midfield, which made it 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Credit Robert Saleh, who used Marcell Harris at linebacker, Sherman as a blitzing cornerback in the slot, and had one third-down package where Sherman, Emmanuel Moseley, Jason Verrett, and Jamar Taylor were all on the field. Early on, the Niners defense impressed.
The same cannot be said for the offense. The 49ers punted, threw an interception, fumbled, and punted two more times on their first six possessions outside of Mostert’s touchdown. It’s not as if players weren’t open. Nick Mullens airmailed an open Jordan Reed that would have moved the chains. After gaining 19 yards on the first two plays on the ensuing drive, a false start and a six-yard loss on second down led to 3rd & 28 for the 49ers offense and forced a punt.
Before the end of the half, Jamar Taylor went down on the field and was grabbing his knee. The cart came out for Taylor, who had been filling in for K’Waun Williams in the slot. Moseley subbed in for Taylor on the next play. The 49ers couldn’t capitalize on the Rams’ three turnovers in the first half after Robbie Gould missed a 50-yard attempt at the end of the half.
The defense took up the scoring to start the third quarter as rookie Javon Kinlaw had a pick-six for his first career touchdown:
Javon Kinlaw has the best ball skills on the 49ers pic.twitter.com/nYMuJjXDTe— KP (@KP_Show) November 29, 2020
Jimmie Ward was outstanding all game. He forced a fumble on Goff to end the half and broke up a few passes. Saleh used Ward in the slot against Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, and it worked to the Niners’ advantage.
A third-down was stalled by Mullens on the next drive when it appeared that he fumbled, but the call was overturned to an incomplete pass. Kyle Shanahan’s challenge saved seven yards, and Robbie Gould’s field goal from 46 yards out was good to make it 17-3. The Rams answered as they picked on Emmanuel Moseley twice on the ensuing drive. Goff overthrew the running back wide open in the end zone, which saved San Francisco from allowing a touchdown. A short field goal made it 17-6, Rams.
The 49ers have found ways to lose all season. Turnovers killed them in this game, and a Mostert fumble that led to a Rams touchdown swung the game. Aaron Donald beat Colton McKivitz so quickly off the line of scrimmage that Mike McGlinchey couldn’t cut Donald off. On the next series, Donald beat McGlinchey for a sack on the edge. Donald is a superstar and makes these types of plays every game. It’s whether or not you can limit them as a defense.
I saw some people complaining about the play of the offensive line during the game, and while that McGlinchey sack will be what everyone remembers, Mullens has plenty of time to make decisions on these other plays. For example, on the next sack, Mullens had 3.2 seconds to throw the ball, but he didn’t. Mullens’ eyes started to drop after Donald started to get in the backfield, and the game hanged. The Niners still had their chances, thanks to the defense.
After a first down reception from Jordan Reed, and another by Kendrick Bourne, Kyle Juszczyk gained 20 yards to put the Niners within field goal range. Robbie Gould made it 20-20 with just over five minutes to play. After the 49ers stopped the Rams on defense, it would come down to Nick Mullens to lead San Francisco into scoring territory. A 24-yard reception by Deebo Samuel put the Niners into scoring position, and another eight-yard gain helped bring the offense closer to field goal range. After a short third down run was stuffed, Juszczyk converted on a fourth down run after he cut back when it looked like there wouldn’t be a hole, giving San Francisco a first down.
After another strong catch from Samuel, Gould had a chance to win it from 47-yards out.