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Chasing the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and before they can battle it out up north in Seattle, the San Francisco 49ers (12-3) first needed to finish off the Los Angeles Rams (8-7) to bounce back from a crushing loss to the Falcons.

An inconsistent night on offense was capped by a clutch final drive from Jimmy Garoppolo (16-for-27 passing, 248 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) and a Robbie Gould game-winning field goal to seal a 34-31 win and set up a Week 17 showdown at the Seahawks.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the 49ers locker room at Levi’s Stadium.

Last week the 49ers were without six starters. Saturday against the Rams, they got two of their starting cornerbacks back from injury. Both Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams returned after missing one game each. The 49ers defensive backfield struggled to contain Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones last week without the two cornerbacks.

Saturday night’s game kicked off with the 49ers on defense against Jared Goff and the Rams. Battling a thumb injury, Goff came into Saturday’s game not exactly 100 percent healthy.

The Rams were expected to focus on the ground game Saturday, but on their first drive they aired it out, a good sign from Goff. Marching into 49ers territory, the Rams found themselves quickly in the red zone after five plays, a few going of which were through the air. From the 10-yard line, Goff completed a touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandin Cooks. On the opening drive of the game, the Rams jumped out to a 7-0 lead.

With the return of Sherman, the Rams were targetting Ahkello Witherspoon early on and having success doing so.

Immediately after the Rams touchdown, the 49ers took back the momentum. On the Rams kickoff, 49ers return man Richie James returned the ball 80 yards, into Rams territory to give the 49ers the ball in the red zone. A jolt of energy from the 49ers special teams set up the offense with great field position.

The 49ers did not move the ball well at all in the red zone. Incomplete passes and drops forced the drive to stall. They would settle for a field goal after starting with such great field position. The 49ers trailed 7-3.

Goff continued to pick apart the 49ers defense as time ran out in the first quarter. The Rams fourth drive moved quickly into 49ers territory after big completions over the middle of the field. Without 49ers starting safety Jaquisksi Tartt, who was playing at a Pro Bowl level before he got hurt, Goff continuously picked on backup safety Marcell Harris. The Rams would score once more on a five-yard touchdown run by Todd Gurley. After one quarter, the Rams led 14-3.

Garoppolo handed the ball off to Deebo Samuel on the first play of the 49ers following drive. A penalty on the Rams for having 12 men on the field moved the 49ers to midfield. A 19-yard pass to Samuel moved the 49ers into Rams territory. A big gain on a pass to Kyle Juszczyk moved the 49ers into the red zone.

To begin the second quarter, the 49ers offense had finally found its rhythm. On the very next play, Samuel got another handoff and took it 19 yards for a touchdown. Garoppolo and the offense utilized weapons other than George Kittle, and it paid off big time. The 49ers trailed 14-10.

Goff continued to move the ball well through the air. The Rams following drive moved into 49ers territory as Goff continued to attack the middle of the field. Into the red zone after six plays, Goff completed a pass to tight end Tyler Higbee to move the ball inside the 10-yard line. Two plays later, Goff found Higbee again for a gain of nine. From the goal line, a handoff to Gurley extended the Rams lead. With 6:47 left in the first half, the Rams led 21-10.

At this point, the Rams were without both of their starting cornerbacks, as Ramsey went to the locker room with a knee injury. On the first play of the 49ers next drive, a pass over the middle to Kittle set up the 49ers near mid-field. Emmanuel Sanders‘ first reception of the night moved the 49ers into Rams territory.

Garoppolo found Kittle once more, this time for 15 yards. From the Rams 30-yard line, Garoppolo completed a short pass to Sanders. Garoppolo completed his third-straight pass, this time to Kendrick Bourne, and the 49ers were back in the red zone.

After the game, Kittle talked about the slow start the 49ers offense faced, and how they got things rolling:

“We started off a little slow. We got it rolling, though. I want to thank our fans for that. They definitely had our backs the entire game and they were rolling, even when we weren’t producing. We finally got a couple plays to click and the stadium just lit up. That got us going too. Just a big thank you to them. On our team, we rebounded. Coach Shanahan had a great message all week. This is playoff ball now. Every game gets us toward our goal. Fortunately, we got that done tonight.”

From the 16-yard line, Raheem Mostert ran the ball in for a touchdown. Arguably the 49ers best running back had been quiet up until this point. The touchdown and the extra point brought the 49ers within four points at 21-17.

The Rams got off one play before the two-minute warning, a 12-yard pass to Cooks. A pitch to Gurley resulted in a loss of a yard, but the Rams would get another first down on a dump-off pass to Higbee. The 49ers defense has struggled against opposing tight ends, and Higbee was having plenty of success early on.

Two plays later, the 49ers got their big break. A tipped pass at the line by linebacker Fred Warner was returned for a pick-six touchdown. Just like that, the 49ers got a huge turnover and took a 24-21 lead before halftime.

After taking the lead late in the second quarter, the 49ers would receive the kickoff to begin the third quarter. An incomplete pass to Kittle began the drive before a false-start penalty moved the 49ers backward. The 2nd-and-15 pass from Garoppolo was tipped into the air, and intercepted by the Rams. A bizarre, freak play allowed the Rams to take over just outside the red zone.

Two plays into the Rams next drive, they were faced with a 3rd-and-9 from the 49ers 24-yard line. Pressure from the 49ers forced an incompletion by Goff, and a Rams 4th down. Forced to attempt a field goal, Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein missed wide left, a huge break for the 49ers after the Garoppolo turnover. Coming into this game, Zuerlein was battling a right quadricep injury, which potentially affected that missed field goal. The 49ers still led 24-21.

Mostert began the 49ers next drive with a run for six yards, followed by a Garoppolo pass to Kittle, and a 49er first down. Another run by Mostert moved the 49ers into Rams territory. Faced with 3rd-and-6, Garoppolo completed a two-yard pass to Samuel. On 4th-and-4, Robbie Gould came out to attempt a long field goal, before the 49ers got called for delay-of-game, taking them out of field goal range. A drive that began with promise ended rather abruptly.

49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky was having a good night. A couple of booming 50+ yard punts were followed up with a 32-yarder that pinned the Rams inside their own 5-yard line.

After a Rams punt, the 49ers began their next drive with great field position at the 44-yard line. Despite the lack of offensive success, the momentum stayed with the 49ers because of how well their defense was playing in the second half.

A pair of handoffs to begin the drive set up the 49ers with a 3rd-and-5 from the 49-yard line. Garoppolo got hit very hard, getting sacked, and ending the 49ers drive. The 49ers offense was out of rhythm last week against Atlanta, and so far it has carried over into Saturday night.

Wishnowsky punted away, but the 49ers were called for interference on the fair catch by the Rams, adding on 15 yards. Goff completed a screen pass to Woods, giving the Rams a quick first down near midfield. Three plays later, the Rams were faced with 3rd-and-5 from the 48-yard line. Completing a deep pass downfield to Woods, Goff moved the Rams into 49ers territory, a 26-yard play.

From the 49ers 26-yard line, the Rams were called for a false start penalty, making it 2nd-and-15. Another pass over the middle to Higbee made it 3rd-and-6. The very next play resulted in a touchdown pass to wide receiver Cooper Kupp, a 22-yard reception. The extra point was good, and the Rams now led 28-24 with 5:06 left in the third quarter.

The 49ers offense needed a quick response after falling behind once more. Garoppolo was immediately sacked by Aaron Donald to begin the 49ers drive. On the very next play, Garoppolo was sacked again, this time by Dante Fowler. The Rams defensive line was dominating the 49ers offensive line. Mostert gained 13 yards on the 49ers 3rd-and-17 play, resulting in another 49ers punt. Garoppolo and the 49ers offense had no answer at all for the Rams pass rush.

After exchanging punts with the Rams, Garoppolo found Kittle wide open for a gain of 36 yards to open their second possession of the fourth quarter. A nice run by Tevin Coleman moved the 49ers into Rams territory. Garoppolo completed a big pass to tight end Ross Dwelley, which was followed by an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Rams, moving the 49ers into the red zone.

From the 7-yard line, Garoppolo and the offense faced a 3rd-and-7, which was caught for a huge touchdown by Kittle. All of a sudden, the 49ers offense had life. Gould’s extra-point was good, and the 49ers led 31-28 with 6:06 left in the game.

After retaking the lead, the 49ers defense needed to step up big time. Goff had been able to do just about anything against the 49ers secondary thus far, but they needed to make an adjustment quickly if they were to hold the Rams.

The Rams first two plays gained just a few yards, forcing them into a 3rd-and-8 from their own 27-yard line. Faced with pressure, Goff completed a pass over the middle to Cooks, giving the Rams a new set of downs near midfield.

A pass deep to Higbee for 19 yards near the Rams sideline moved the ball into 49ers territory. Two plays later, Goff was hit as he threw, nearly resulting in a 49ers interception, dropped by Harris. Goff and the Rams had 3rd-and-10, which resulted in a four-yard pass, and a Rams field goal attempt. Zuerlein, who already missed one field goall, made this one. With 2:30 left in the game, the Rams had tied the game at 31-31.

If the 49ers were to win this game, they needed to take advantage of the time left on the clock. Just needing a field goal, Garoppolo and the offense set out on a two-minute drill.

Garoppolo took a sack on the very first play, losing six yards. Fowler and Donald combined for the sack as the game was stopped at the two-minute warning. An incomplete pass to Mostert set up the 49ers with a 3rd-and-16. Garoppolo completed a huge pass to Bourne over the middle, giving the 49ers a first down near midfield.

After a run by Mostert, the 49ers took a timeout with 1:04 left. Garoppolo could not escape the Rams pass rush to save his life. Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam sacked Garoppolo bringing up yet another 3rd-and-16.

And would you believe it, the 49ers pulled off some magic.

A booming 46-yard pass to Sanders moved the 49ers into the red zone as the clock ticked away. An insane pass from Garoppolo just about sealed it for the 49ers, who were well within field goal range.

Completing two massive 3rd-and-16 plays on the 49ers final drive, Garoppolo helped seal a 49ers victory with his arm after the 49ers offense, and the whole team, in general, struggled all game.

Kyle Shanahan had this to say about Garoppolo and the 49ers final drive:

“I mean, he was resilient. 3rd-and-16 is not the best situation to be in, usually I’m not feeling great in those situations. Those guys gave him enough time in protection so he could hit [Kendrick] Bourne over the middle, had a similar play like that over the middle, but the safeties got wide and we got the opportunity to Emmanuel [Sanders] downfield. For the guys to just give him the time, and for him to hang in there, the game for everyone wasn’t perfect. The offense, defense or special teams, the play calling, the quarterback protections, everything was up and down throughout the whole thing. There were a lot of times where each individual on our team could feel like they had messed up some stuff up, but each individual kept coming back, and to find a way to end that game there at the end was pretty special.”

Taking a knee and draining the clock, the 49ers sent out Gould to attempt the game-winning field goal with three seconds left. The kick was up, and was good. The 49ers had once again walked off on another game-winning field goal.

After the thrilling game-winning kick, Gould had this to say about the kick that sealed the victory:

“It is a routine kick. I love that moment. That is what you live for. When you have guys that are around you on offense that convert three third-and-longs to make that kick a 33-yarder instead of a 50-yarder. Those are times that you have to appreciate those guys driving the ball. You have to appreciate the guys that are around the operation and how hard we have been working to make it right. We just have to keep it going.”

Up next

Following the thrilling 49ers win, Kyle Shanahan and his 49ers (12-3) head north to face the Seattle Seahawks (11-3) in what should be an epic clash between two of the NFL’s best teams. If the 49ers go into Seattle and come away with a win, they would win the division and secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC along with a much-needed first-round bye.

Notes

  • Prior to Saturday nights game, the 49ers received some tragic news regarding one of their own players’ families. C.J. Beathard‘s brother, Clayton, was fatally stabbed outside of a bar Friday night. Beathard flew home Saturday morning to be with his family, but the 49ers and the many players and fans around the NFL showed their support for the Beathard family.

Kyle Shanahan talked post-game about how difficult this game was for the 49ers organization:

“It was tough just seeing C.J. last night, and finding out about it the way we did and just going to be there for him, and how horrible it is, and there’s nothing you can really do or say. I know they (the players) had heavy hearts, we all knew, everyone finds out on their phones before everyone gets a chance to talk about it. People on this team really really respect C.J. [Beathard], and his family. For anyone to have something like that happen, it’s as horrible of a thing as I can imagine. I know C.J. left back there this morning to be with his family, and I’ll be reaching out to him as soon as possible.” 

George Kittle has known C.J. and his family for eight years, back to their time together in college at Iowa. Kittle was emotional post-game discussing what kind of person Clayton Beathard was, and thinking back to his fondest memories with him. He talked about how tough this game was for him:


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