49ers takeaways: What we learned in last-second 34-31 win over Rams



SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers’ entire regular season now boils down to one game.

The 49ers’ dramatic 34-31 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night at Levi’s Stadium sets up a well-defined Week 17 game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Jimmy Garoppolo hit Emmanuel Sanders for a 46-yard pass on a third-and-16 situation with less than a minute to play to set up Robbie Gould’s 33-yard field goal as time expired for the winning points.

Now, all focus shifts to next Sunday.

If the 49ers (12-3) can win at Seattle, they will earn the NFC West title and homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

If the 49ers lose, they will tumble to the No. 5 seed and, as a wild-card team, go on the road for the first week of the playoffs against the winner of the NFC East.

Here are three things you need to know about the 49ers from their Week 16 game against the Rams:

Offensive struggles in back-to-back weeks

The 49ers’ offense could not have looked much more crisp than in the team’s Week 14 shootout victory in New Orleans.

But in the two games since that 48-46 victory over the Saints, the offense has fallen flat. At least, on Saturday, the 49ers made the plays necessary for the victory.

The 49ers wanted to run the ball against the Rams on Saturday, but they could not string together enough first downs to ever get the ground attack going.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns against the Saints, but he accounted for just 200 yards passing in the loss last week to the Atlanta Falcons.

On Saturday, Garoppolo was constantly harassed by the Rams’ pass rush. He was sacked six times. Garoppolo completed 16 of 27 passes for 248 yards with one touchdown. He was intercepted twice, after throwing just one interception in his previous four games.

Garoppolo’s 7-yard touchdown pass to George Kittle with 6:06 remaining in the fourth quarter gave the 49ers a 31-28 lead, but the Rams came back to tie it on Greg Zuerlein’s 52-yard field goal with 2:48 remaining.

Mostert rides wave of momentum

Raheem Mostert still has not started a game in his NFL career, but there’s no question he has become the team’s top back.

Mostert on Saturday had a 19-yard touchdown run in the first half to give him a rushing score in five consecutive games. He joined Joe “The Jet” Perry, Hugh McElhenny and Derek Loville as the only players in club history to achieve that streak. He has also scored an NFL-high six touchdowns from scrimmage since Week 12 after scoring just three times in his first 44 career games.

The 49ers did not get much going with their run game, but Mostert strengthened his grasp as the team’s top back with 53 yards on 11 rushing attempts.

Defense struggles but gets it together

The 49ers’ defense was elite when they met the Rams earlier this season.

On that mid-October day in Los Angeles, the 49ers’ pass rush was relentless. Rams quarterback Jared Goff completed just 13 of 24 passes for 78 yards. Goff was also sacked four times for 30 yards.

But the defense does not look the same. Injuries have taken a toll, and the club looks worn down.

On Saturday, Goff used a variety of rollouts and got the ball out quickly before the 49ers’ pass rush could get there. He completed 27 of 46 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted once.

The 49ers’ depth and talent on the D-line has taken a hit with season-ending injuries to Ronald Blair and D.J. Jones. In addition, edge rusher Dee Ford has played in just four snaps over the past five games due to a hamstring injury.

The result is that the 49ers are relying on DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa to play a lot. They appear to be wearing down, as the 49ers have registered just three sacks over the past three games entering Saturday.

Linebacker Fred Warner supplied the 49ers’ best play of the night in the closing minute of the first half. Bosa was applying pressure on Goff from the inside. Warner had a perfect read on Goff’s attempted swing pass to running back Malcolm Brown and stepped in front of him for the interception.

Not only did Warner register his first career interception late in the first half, he kept his footing and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown. The play gave the 49ers an improbable 24-21 lead at halftime.

Despite being outgained 240-159, and being dominated through much of the first half, Warner’s play helped the 49ers take the lead after 30 minutes.

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