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Rams Suffer OT Defeat to 49ers in Season Finale

Posted Jan 3, 2016

Phil Dawson's 23-yard field goal in extra time sent San Francisco to a 19-16 victory over St. Louis on Sunday afternoon at Levi's Stadium.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The Rams’ 2015 season came to its conclusion on Sunday, with St. Louis falling 19-16 to San Francisco in overtime.

The visitors had their share of chances to win the game, including a 48-yard field goal attempt in overtime that would have ended the contest. But that kick was blocked and the Niners proceeded to go deep into St. Louis territory before kicking a game-winning field goal of their own.

“That was a tough way to end it,” head coach Jeff Fisher said postgame. “As I said, they practiced hard, they played hard, and in games like this, you’ve got to find a way to make plays. And they made the plays.

“We gave up plays in all three phases,” Fisher added. “We dropped balls, we gave up big plays defensively, we had a couple special teams penalties, and then we had the difficulty kicking field goals. That’s pretty much the difference.”

The missed field goals were a significant factor in the ultimate outcome. Greg Zuerlein made his first three attempts, but missed his 52-yard attempt wide right in the third quarter before his final attempt in OT got blocked by a defender from the edge on the left of the formation.

“The first one that I missed, I thought I hit it really well,” Zuerlein said. “It was going straight pretty much the whole way, and at the end, it just kind of fell off. I haven’t really ever had a kick like that, where I thought, ‘OK, that’s in,’ and then it didn’t go in.

“The next one, I thought I hit that pretty well as well,” Zuerlein added. “We’ll have to see if I was too slow in my operation or what happened on the block.”

While quarterback Case Keenum finished 22-of-37 passing for 231 yards, the offense was undoubtedly hampered by multiple drops and a few off-target throws -- particularly in the second half. The Rams scored all 16 of their points in the first two quarters, getting shutout after halftime.

“There’s a few plays that I’d like back on third down, some off throws that were to guys who were open,” Keenum said. “It’s those crucial moments of the game that come down to winning or losing.”

The absence of Todd Gurley made it that much tougher for the offensive unit, as the rookie running back sat out Sunday’s contest with a mild turf toe issue. Fisher said earlier in the week Gurley should be fine with rest, and reiterated the same point after Sunday’s contest.

“Nothing that’s going to set him back, nothing that’s going to be a problem for him,” Fisher said. “But we didn’t feel like it was necessary to mess with it and create the possibility that it would damage the joint a little bit more. So we decided to hold him today.”

Nevertheless, the Rams rushed for 133 yards on 33 carries. Tre Mason got the bulk of the work with 18 attempts, but Benny Cunningham had the most explosive run -- a 40-yard dash that helped St. Louis score one of its field goals. Undrafted rookie Malcolm Brown also took four carries for 17 yards in his first NFL action.

“I thought we played really, really hard. But we just came up too short,” Keenum said. “They made a play or two more than us in the end.”

St. Louis’ offense was effective early to take a quick lead. On the first play of the Rams’ second drive, Keenum dropped back for a play action pass and fired a deep ball to the right side. Wide receiver Kenny Britt had a step on the San Francisco corner and went up to make the catch for a 54-yard gain to the home team’s 33-yard line. The long play set up a Greg Zuerlein 33-yard field goal, and the visitors held the game’s first lead, 3-0.

But after that, St. Louis had trouble defending a pair of explosive plays, both of which led to San Francisco points. For the first, Niners quarterback Blaine Gabbert found Anquan Boldin in the middle of the field to open the second quarter. The wide receiver then shed his defender and walked into the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown, giving the home team a 7-3 advantage.

Then San Francisco used a 47-yard run by DuJuan Harris on 3rd-and-3 to move all the way up to St. Louis’ nine-yard line. The defense would hold the home team to a field goal, but the explosive play set up a Niners’ 10-3 lead.

But after the field goal, the Rams got back on the board with a 12-play drive. Promoted this week from the practice squad, Brown received his first carries and gained positive yardage, helping the visitors move the ball into San Francisco territory. Eventually, Zuerlein converted a 32-yard field goal to make the score 10-6.

Then St. Louis capitalized on a golden opportunity to get points off a takeaway. With just under two minutes remaining in the second quarter, Gabbert dropped back to throw a screen, but defensive tackle Aaron Donald read the play and tipped the ball up. Defensive end Eugene Sims came down with the it for an interception, and then showed some strong athleticism, returning the ball all the way to the home team’s three-yard line.

“Aaron got his hand on the ball and I was there,” Sims said. “I’m a former receiver, so I felt like I should take it back there. I saw the receiver coming out of my peripheral [vision], so he made a good stop on me.”

From there, Mason did the rest, running the ball in on a pitch play from four-yards out on second down for a touchdown. The Auburn product’s first touchdown of the season got the Rams back in front with a 13-10 lead.

The visitors increased that margin with a quick drive at the end of the second quarter. The defense forced a Niners punt, and the Rams got going with a 40-yard run by Cunningham. The back put St. Louis at the San Francisco 26-yard line, and Zuerlein connected on a 44-yard field goal to increase the lead to 16-10 going into halftime.

The two teams traded field goal attempts in the third quarter, but only the home team’s Phil Dawson was able to connect. After Zuerlein’s miss from 52-yards out, Trumaine Johnson narrowly missed his eighth interception to break up a Gabbert fourth-down pass.

But with a long fourth-quarter drive, the Niners tied the game. A 12-play, 60-yard drive advanced as far as the St. Louis eight-yard line, but Gabbert mishandled a pitch to Harris from that spot. The running back recovered the fumble at the St. Louis 20, and Dawson made a 38-yard field goal to tie the game at 16.

Neither team could score again in regulation, and the game went to overtime.

St. Louis lost the coin toss and started on defense, but the unit did its job, forcing a punt. It looked like the Rams would have a good chance to win as the offense proceeded to move the ball all the way to San Francisco’s 30-yard line. But on fourth down, Zuerlein’s 48-yard attempt was blocked, giving the 49ers another chance to win the game.

“I’m just disappointed for the because once Kenny made the catch, and we got down there, it was, ‘OK, let’s run it three times, not give up any minus yards, kick the field goal, and go home,’” Fisher said. “And we weren’t able to do it.”

The 49ers cashed in on their opportunity, as a 33-yard pass from Gabbert to Quinton Patton set the Niners up at the Rams’ 5-yard line. From there, Dawson made a 23-yard field goal to send St. Louis home with a loss.

“This was just a season full of ups and downs,” defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. “So, you look at it and you say, just get better. They made the plays they needed to make and we didn’t. And I think that’s as simple as you can put it.”

After falling on Sunday, the Rams end the 2015 season with a disappointing 7-9 record.

“There were a lot of bright spots. We have a good group of young players. We played our offensive line for the future, our running back for the future,” Fisher said. “We’e got a good group, good core. You look back and you say, ‘OK, I’m alright with being 4-2 in the division.’ I’m not alright with some of the other losses that took place. Never will be.”