Knot Satisfied: Rams Tie Niners

Posted Nov 11, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO – Had you informed the Rams before their Sunday trip to Candlestick Park to take on the defending NFC West Division champion 49ers and their ferocious defense and efficient offense that they would head home Sunday night without a loss on their record, chances are they probably would have been more than happy to take it.

But after 75 grueling minutes of football finally came to a conclusion on Sunday, the Rams couldn’t quite figure out how to feel. Because while the Rams didn’t lose to the heavily-favored 49ers, they didn’t win, either.

The result was a 24-24 tie, the precise type of outcome that no player dreams possible before any game.

“I’m really not sure what to feel,” end Robert Quinn said. “We didn’t win, we didn’t lose, it’s kind of just I don’t know. It’s emotionless.”

After a little time passed and it sunk in that the Rams had played to a tie for the first time since a 10-10 knot on Sept. 19, 1976 at Minnesota, the overwhelming feeling in the Rams locker room wasn’t emotionless, it was regret.

“It’s a weird feeling,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “I have never been a part of a game like that before. I think the mood in this locker room is disappointment.”

The tie moved the Rams record to 3-5-1 on the season but it wasn’t so much the result itself as the way they got there that left the Rams wanting more.

In fact, both teams had multiple opportunities to secure the victory Sunday but aside from San Francisco kicker David Akers’ missed 41-yard field goal in overtime, the Rams clearly had a few more definitive chances to get the job done.

“I have to say I have been doing this awhile and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game like this,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “As we just told our guys, we had a number of chances to put this one away and unfortunately we didn’t.”

Headlining that list of opportunities was a huge play by receiver Danny Amendola on the first play from scrimmage in overtime. On the play, Bradford dropped back and fired a perfect strike to Amendola darting down the right sideline.

Amendola caught the pass in stride and raced down the sideline before being corralled at San Francisco’s 2. Under the new overtime rules, the Rams needed only to punch it in from 2 yards out to emerge with a win.

But while the Rams hustled down the field to set up for a potential clincher, the officiating crew was huddling and discussing a possible miscue by the Rams. After the play was over, a yellow flag came out and the Rams were penalized for illegal formation.
An 80-yard gain that could have been the catalyst for a stunning Rams win not only was called back but actually cost the Rams 5 yards. The explanation given to the Rams was that receiver Brandon Gibson wasn’t close enough to the line of scrimmage, leaving tackle Rodger Saffold uncovered.

“I didn’t (see the flag) until we got all the way down there and they threw the flag,” Bradford said. “Going back and looking, I think it was what they called but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that where they don’t throw a flag.”

Bradford shouldered the blame for the penalty, saying it’s his responsibility to double check those things but any Ram could have pointed it out. In fact, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was visibly trying to get Gibson’s attention before the snap. The late flag came more as a result of the crew trying to get it correct than anything else.

“He called it in and talked to them and they conferenced and basically they decided it was an illegal formation,” Fisher said. “Normally speaking, mechanically you throw the flag immediately so time wasn’t really the issue.”

Despite the missed chance there, the Rams got another chance to win it on the heels of Akers’ missed field goal.

Bradford and Co. pieced together another excellent drive into San Francisco territory to give kicker Greg Zuerlein a 53-yard field goal to win it with 2:48 to play.

A perfect snap and hold by punter Johnny Hekker led to Zuerlein blasting it right down the middle for an apparent game winner. But again a flag came out, this time for delay of game, an inexcusable penalty at that point in the game according to Fisher.

Zuerlein’s ensuing 58-yarder sailed wide right and was the last legitimate scoring chance for either team before the clock hit all zeroes.

“There shouldn’t be a question as to whether or not you get a field goal off to win in overtime,” Fisher said. “Johnny just lost track of the time. That happens. You don’t want to say it’s OK, it’s certainly not OK but he was focused on Greg and focused on protection and it happened.”

Of course, the Rams also had their chances to close it out in regulation. Bradford and the offense, which was firing on all cylinders against the 49ers vaunted defense for most of the day on its way to 458 total yards, even put together a signature drive that very nearly served as the winning points.

After giving up a 17-7 lead on two quick San Francisco scores, the Rams responded with a relentless 14-play drive that covered 81 yards in 7:14 and gave them a 24-21 lead with little more than a minute to play.

Simply not willing to be denied, the Rams overcame costly penalties and came up with big play after big play including a gutsy fake punt that saw Hekker fake a handoff to Amendola on a punt and find tight end Lance Kendricks for 19 yards on fourth-and- 8 from the Rams 33.

Bradford hit receiver Austin Pettis for a 2-yard touchdown on a play action pass as running back Steven Jackson picked up a late blitz from Niners linebacker Patrick Willis.

“I had all the confidence in the world we were going to win the game at that point,” Bradford said. “It was a great job by our special teams with the fake punt to keep that drive going and then when we scored, I was 100 percent sure we were going to win that game.”

The Rams defense couldn’t get the needed hold against the Niners and backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who replaced the concussed Alex Smith in the first half.

The missed chance for the defense was one of many in a week in which the Rams emphasized takeaways. In fact, the Rams had at least three potential fumble recoveries get away mostly through unfortunate bounces.

“Yeah, that’s the way the ball bounced today,” end Chris Long said. “Imagine we get those breaks or we get a break or two today, who knows?”

It was just another facet of a maddening game in which the Rams had multiple opportunities to get to 3-0 in the division and pull off their biggest win in a game Fisher earlier in the week said would be his team’s “biggest challenge.”

“When you have the opportunities that we had and they were given away by things that were in our power to control, that’s the frustrating thing,” Bradford said.

When the clock finally ran out, it took a moment for it to sink in that the game was over without a definitive result. Fortunately for both sides, they won’t have to wait long to renew acquaintances.

The Rams and Niners have a Dec. 2 date to finish what they started Sunday.

“I think we are going to think we let one get away from us,” Jackson said. “They went to the championship game. They are a very good team, they played a very good game and we did as well and we have to face them again in three weeks.”