The Rams used a fast start with points off takeaways to build a significant lead, defeating the 49ers in Week 17, 48-32, to clinch a first-round bye in the postseason.
With the victory, the Rams have also reached 13 wins for the first time since 2001.
The defense got things going by recording three takeaways on San Francisco’s first three possessions.
The first came courtesy of linebacker Mark Barron and cornerback Aqib Talib, as Barron forced a fumble on fullback Kyle Jusczcyk — who was stretching to get past the sticks. Talib was there to recover the fumble and return it 47 yards down the left sideline, all the way to the San Francisco seven.
A couple plays later, quarterback Jared Goff connected with Brandin Cooks in the back of the end zone for the wideout’s fourth touchdown reception of the season. With the extra point, L.A. had a 7-0 lead with 11:57 left in the first quarter.
It didn’t take long for the home team to score again, as linebacker Cory Littleton made his first of two interceptions in the opening 30 minutes. On 3rd-and-10 from the S.F. 25, outside linebacker Dante Fowler and defensive tackle Aaron Donald pressured Mullens into a looping, errant pass on the defense’s left. Littleton was there to intercept the ball, returning it to the San Francisco 13.
With a pair of C.J. Anderson runs, the Rams were back in the end zone with a 14-0 lead with 10:40 left on the clock in the first quarter.
If you thought the Rams’ defense was done after that, it wasn’t. Despite playing the vast majority of snaps in the first quarter, the unit once again got the ball back for the offense. This time it happened in the red zone, with safety John Johnson tipping a pass up and safety Blake Countess — filling in for the injured Lamarcus Joyner — coming away with the interception in the end zone. Donald also got a QB hit on the play, pressuring Mullens once again.
Though Los Angeles couldn’t find the end zone after that takeaway, and the allowed a 30-yard field goal to make the score 14-3, the defense had more takeaways to get. Punter Johnny Hekker helped set this one up, as his 45-yard punt died on the grass at the six-yard line. And a couple plays later on 3rd-and-4, Littleton stepped in front of Mullens’ pass to wide receiver Richie James Jr. to pick off his second pass of the first half.
Littleton returned the ball 19 yards up the left sideline to give L.A. a defensive touchdown and a 21-3 lead with 12:37 on the clock in the second quarter.
The defense didn’t get a takeaway on the ensuing drive, but did stop San Francisco on a three-and-out.
Los Angeles got the ball back on its own 18-yard line, but was still able to put together an 11-play, 86-yard drive to get into the end zone. L.A. converted three third downs on the possession, before Goff connected with Cooks for an 18-yard screen on the left to get into the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown.
Following San Francisco’s first touchdown of the day — a nine-yard pass from Mullens to James — Los Angeles put together a 13-play, two-minute drive to get a field goal as time expired, going into halftime up 31-10.
Los Angeles’ offense kept things going on the first drive of the second half, using chunk plays to get down the field for a touchdown in just five plays. Goff connected on two downfield strikes to get the club into the end zone — the first a 36-yard pass down the left seam to tight end Tyler Higbee. Then Goff hit wide receiver Josh Reynolds in stride on the right, with the wideout making the catch as he strode into the end zone for a 29-yard TD.
Armed with a 38-10 lead, Los Angeles did allow San Francisco into the end zone on a one-yard TD by running back Alfred Morris.
With the score at 38-17, the Rams’ starting offense was on the field for one final drive in the 2018 regular season and finished the campaign on a high note. Anderson led the way, taking five carries for 38 yards. But it was Goff connecting with Reynolds in the back of the end zone for a two-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-goal from the S.F. two, giving L.A. a 45-17 lead with just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Kicker Greg Zuerlein nailed a 51-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to give L.A. a 48-17 lead, putting game firmly out of reach.
And that was the case even though the 49ers scored a two-yard touchdown midway through the fourth, making the score 48-24.