Tuesday, January 3, 2012

49ers Hold Off Rams, 34-27: San Francisco Clinches No. 2 Seed In NFL Playoffs

ST. LOUIS -- Good thing the San Francisco 49ers opened the playbook in the finale.

Record-setting kicker David Akers showed off a strong left arm to match his left leg in a 34-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday as Michael Crabtree bamboozled defenders on a perfectly executed trick play for a touchdown.

It appeared to be the icing on a dominating performance that wrapped up the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC and a first-round bye. Instead, it helped build just enough of a cushion against the usually offensive-challenged St. Louis Rams.

Crabtree caught scoring passes from Akers and Alex Smith for the 49ers, whose 24-point fourth quarter lead was in jeopardy before they sealed the victory.

Akers broke the NFL single-season field goal record last week and finished with 44, including five in the first half of the two St. Louis meetings. He missed on a 48-yarder, but clicked from 36 and 42 yards.

Crabtree and Vernon Davis had big days for a team short of pass catchers and Tarell Brown had a pair of interceptions that led to touchdowns as the 49ers (13-3) beat the Rams (2-14) for the second time in five games. The 49ers held St. Louis to just 157 total yards in a 26-0 victory that clinched the NFC West in Week 12 but were hanging on at the finish of the rematch after the Rams scored two touchdowns in just 13 seconds.

Brandon Lloyd caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Kellen Clemens, the Rams recovered Josh Brown's on-side kick and Cadillac Williams scored on a 1-yard run with 4:39 to go one play after drawing an interference call on Brown on an underthrown pass from Clemens in the end zone.

The Rams were rescued from the ignominy of landing the No. 1 draft pick for the second time in three years when the Colts (2-14) lost 19-13 to the Jaguars. The Colts hold the tiebreaker based on opponents' strength of schedule.

The 49ers' record under new coach Jim Harbaugh is their best since another 13-win season in 1997 under another rookie coach, Steve Mariucci.

The Rams scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, six better than their NFL-low game average, but were down to untested Tom Brandstater and third-and-17 after Clemens injured his right leg on a sack by NaVorro Bowman with 2:46 to go. Brandstater threw two incompletions, the 49ers took over at their own 40 and needed just one first down to seal it ? and exhale.

San Francisco seemingly had cemented the win in the final minute of the third quarter on Akers' first career touchdown pass for a 27-10 lead. The 49ers finished 6-2 on the road, the franchise's best showing since 1996.

Harbaugh is just the fourth rookie head coach to win 13 games and third by the 49ers, topped by George Seifert's 14-2 showing in 1989.

Clemens ran for an 18-yard score to give the Rams the early lead. Clemens made his third straight start in place with Sam Bradford (high left ankle sprain) and A.J. Feeley (broken right thumb) both sidelined. Bradford, the top pick in 2010, missed his fourth straight game and sixth overall.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo is just 10-38 in three seasons and his job is in jeopardy coming off a total bust this year on the heels of a six-win improvement last season. Attendance was announced as 55,990, about 9,000 shy of capacity at the Edward Jones Dome, but the stadium appeared no better than half-full and drained quickly in the second half.

The 49ers won without injured wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. (ankle) and Kyle Williams (concussion), and with Frank Gore mostly watching and gaining just 9 yards on seven carries. Crabtree had 92 yards on nine receptions and Davis had 118 yards on eight catches, his second 100-yard game of the year.

Crabtree appeared to be walking off the field with the 49ers in field goal formation but stopped just shy of the sideline and lined up alone, allowing him to amble into the end zone on a 13-yard catch on Akers' first career touchdown pass in 205 games.

Steven Jackson had 76 yards on 16 carries, a huge improvement over the first meeting against the 49ers in early December when he was held to 19 yards on 10 carries, before injuring his left arm in the third quarter. It appeared Jackson was hurt after dropping a low screen pass and then tackled hard by a pair of 49ers.

The 49ers began drives inside the St. Louis 35 on their first two touchdowns, and capitalized on Terrell Brown's interception of a flea flicker from running back Jerious Norwood to Clemens on the go-ahead score. Two plays after the pick, Crabtree slipped Josh Gordy's tackle on a sideline pattern and Quintin Mikell also missed on a 28-yarder that made it 14-7.

Clemens showed some nifty moves while dodging tackles on an 18-yard scramble for the Rams' first rushing touchdown in three weeks and the early lead, and Smith matched him on an 8-yarder in the final minute of the first quarter. Smith slipped and fell in the pocket but recovered in plenty of time and benefited from Gore's nice block on linebacker Chris Chamberlain at the goal line.

Notes: Gary Pinkel, who coached the 49ers' Aldon Smith and the Rams' Danario Alexander at Missouri, was on the sideline before the game. ... The Rams cancelled the usual pregame pep rally and live music outside the stadium because of high gusting winds. ... 49ers FB Bruce Miller (left knee) was sidelined in the second quarter, but was in uniform testing it with sprints before halftime.

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Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/01/san-francisco-49ers-hold-off-rams-clinch-2-playoffs_n_1178814.html

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