SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Head coach Sean McVay often says that other than points, the turnover margin is the biggest indicator of wins and losses in the NFL.
Well on Sunday, the Rams finished +4 in that statistic en route to a 39-10 victory over the 49ers, bringing the team to 7-0 for the first time since 1985.
Los Angeles picked up three of its four takeaways in the first half — plus a blocked punt — to build a 22-0 first-half lead. While San Francisco scored a touchdown on its final possession of the half, L.A. controlled the ball and the clock for the majority of the final 30 minutes to come away with the victory.
The Rams got on the board first after their first takeaway, which came courtesy of a pair of young outside linebackers early in the first quarter.
On 2nd-and-16 from the San Francisco 35, second-year OLB Samson Ebukam came off the edge and recorded a sack/fumble on quarterback C.J. Beathard. The ball popped into the air, and rookie Trevon Young was there to catch the airborne fumble for a Rams takeaway.
The fumble led to a 35-yard field goal by kicker Greg Zuerlein — his first attempt since returning from his groin injury.
Though the Niners were able to move the ball into Rams territory on their second possession, defensive signal-caller Cory Littleton came through on a pair of significant plays to keep the home team off the board.
On 1st-and-10 from the L.A. 26, Littleton read a screen to running back Raheem Mostert perfectly on the defense’s left, and made the tackle for a one-yard loss.
Then on 3rd-and-11, Littleton blitzed from the left and corralled Beathard for an 11-yard loss on a sack, taking the 49ers out of field goal range. That was Littleton’s first sack of the season and the second sack of his career.
On the first play of San Francisco’s third possession, defensive tackle Aaron Donald ripped the ball away from running back Matt Breida as he was being tackled. The ball never hit the ground, as Donald kept the forced fumble in his possession for Los Angeles’ second takeaway of the first quarter. Donald would later have a sack
It didn’t take L.A. too long to fully capitalize on the turnover, using four plays to go 21 yards into the end zone. The offense converted a 3rd-and-3 play with a seven-yard jet sweep from wideout Brandin Cooks.
Then running back Todd Gurley did the rest, taking in a seven-yard handoff 1st-and-goal over the left side for his league-leading 12th touchdown of the 2018 season. With the TD, Gurley has scored a touchdown in his last 10 regular-season games.
Littleton continued his huge first half by doing what he does best — blocking another punt. This time, it came early in the second quarter on 4th-and-19 from the Niners 16, as Littleton came through the middle of the punt protection team to Though many Rams dressed in yellow gave chase, they weren’t able to possess the ball before it went out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
The two-point play gave L.A. a 15-0 lead.
Cornerback Troy Hill recorded the first interception of his career midway through the second quarter, giving Los Angeles its third extra possession in the first half.
On 1st-and-10 from the San Francisco 49, Hill stepped in front of a pass over the middle of the field intended for wide receiver Marquise Goodwin and picked it off, returning the takeaway seven yards to the L.A. 40.
With the help of solid run yards from Malcolm Brown, L.A. got in position to further extend its lead. Quarterback Jared Goff hit Cooks with a 19-yard pass in the front-left corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
With the extra point, the Rams led 22-0.
San Francisco got on the board at the end of the first half, however, with a big drive by tight end George Kittle. The 49ers leading receiver caught three passes for 68 yards on the possession, including a 10-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left in the period to give San Francisco its first touchdown of the game.
The Niners opened the second half with the ball, but didn’t hold it for long in large part thanks to Donald’s second sack of the game. On this play, Donald started lined up over a guard, but ended up rushing around the right tackle to bring Beathard down for Los Angeles’ fourth sack.
After San Francisco’s punt, Los Angeles got down to the red zone in part to a pair of strong runs by Gurley — one for nine yards, and another for 18. But Gurley was stuffed for a two-yard loss on 3rd-and-2 from the home team’s 13, leaving the visitors to settle for a 33-yard Zuerlein field goal.
Armed with a 25-7 lead, the Rams defense went back to work for its fourth takeaway of the game. On 3rd-and-1 from the San Francisco 34, safety John Johnson made a terrific play to intercept Beathard. Covering Kittle on the defense’s left, Johnson tipped the ball before it could reach the tight end. And while Kittle appeared to have control of the pigskin for a second, Johnson was able to rip it away and clearly possess it before it hit the ground for his third interception of the season.
With the ball on the Niners’ 27, the Rams didn’t take long to fully capitalize on the opportunity. Gurley ran it up the middle for seven yards, then Goff connected with wideout Josh Reynolds — who started in place of the injured Cooper Kupp — for a 19-yard gain to the one-yard line. Running up to the line of scrimmage for no-huddle play, Gurley took the ball in over the left side for a one-yard touchdown, capping a three-play drive.
Using their no-huddle offense, the 49ers were able to move the ball effectively into Rams territory. But Littleton once again came through in a big way, bringing down Beathard on 3rd-and-7 from the L.A. 25 for an eight-yard sack. Kicker Robbie Gould nailed his 51-yard field goal to make the score 32-10, Los Angeles.
After a Johnny Hekker punt left the Niners on their own nine-yard line, defensive tackle Aaron Donald pushed them back even further with his third sack of the game. Donald’s four sacks doubled his season total to 8.0, this being the first time in his career that the defensive tackle has recorded at 4.0 sacks in one contest.
With San Francisco punting out of its own end zone, returner JoJo Natson set L.A. up with good field position once again with a 36-yard return all the way to the San Francisco 13. Gurley put the game on ice with his third touchdown of the day — this one coming on a 12-yard pass from Goff. With the extra point, Los Angeles took a 39-10 lead.
While the Rams elected to rest many of their starters on the ensuing defensive possession, Donald did return on a pass rushing down of 3rd-and-5 to record his fourth sack of the game — setting a new career high for a single contest.
From there, Los Angeles put in its reserves on offense — even running a play from I-formation, something the club never does — in order to salt the clock and leave the Bay Area with a victory.
The Rams will be back home at the Coliseum for the first time in a month next week to take on the Packers.