Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monday Magic

Brandon Lloyd has had a bit of a checkered career that's led him from a reserve with the 49ers that had a penchant for acrobatic catches, to the trappings of stardom with Washington, Chicago, Denver, St. Louis and New England, to out of Football completely last season, and now back to the 49ers as a kind of change-of-pace guy, a deep threat to complement an already strong receiving corps. Last week, against Kansas City, he showed he still has the ability to make the jaw-dropping catches. On Monday night, in St. Louis, he had the catch of the day, reeling in an 80-yard Touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick with :14 seconds to go in the 1st half. Before his clinical roasting of Janoris Jenkins, the 49ers had had a difficult time of things in St. Louis, as Austin Davis and his group of speedy, young backs and receivers had kept the 49ers off guard and in check, dominating the clock and running out to a 14-0 lead. The Rams appeared primed to take a 14-3 lead into the half, particularly after Rams Punter Johnny Hekker pinned the 49ers back at their own 5 yard line with under 2 minutes to play. But instead of sitting on the ball, the 49ers took a shot. Kaepernick connected with Lloyd, Lloyd took it to the house, and the 49ers grabbed the momentum and ran with it, spinning their 14-0 deficit into a decisive 31-17 victory in St. Louis, their 3rd win in a row and 7th consecutive victory on Monday Night Football, where their prime-time players generally play their best.

Early in the game, however, the 49ers didn't really look their best. The intrepid Rams, who boast an out-of-nowhere Rookie Quarterback in Austin Davis, jumped on the 49ers early. The 49ers fell into some of their usual bad habits as the Rams embarked on an opening drive that took up nearly half the 1st Quarter. They committed two penalties, one of which wiped out an Ahmad Brooks sack and another which negated a key incomplete pass, and also allowed the Rams to convert a pair of 3rd downs on a drive that ultimately ended in a Bennie Cunningham Touchdown that gave the Rams the lead. The 49ers offense came out and did nothing on their first drive, and although they appeared to be moving on their second drive, things fell apart when Vance McDonald, after a rare reception, fumbled the ball and James Laurinitis recovered for the Rams near midfield. The Rams then gashed the 49ers behind Tre Mason for a pair of big gains, and then Davis ran a brilliant play fake and was able to find an absurdly wide open Lance Kendricks for a 22-yard Touchdown to put the Rams up by 14.

Down by 14, the 49ers responded by punting. Fortunately, the 49ers defense began to wake up, as Dan Skuta sacked Davis twice on their ensuing possession, and the 49ers partially blocked Hekker's punt to put themselves in good field position. Still, they couldn't move the ball at all, went 3-and-out, and ended up settling for a long Phil Dawson Field Goal to get them on the board. By this point, the Rams had basically dominated the game, dominated the clock and seemed primed to run out the clock on the half and take a double-digit lead into the locker room. But their ensuing drive was cut short after a questionable Offensive Pass Interference penalty called on Jared Cook. This, of course, led to the sequence that led to Brandon Lloyd's Touchdown that for all intents and purposes tilted everything into San Francisco's favor.

The game after Halftime was basically all 49ers. Though the 49ers had a difficult time establishing the run game with Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde, Colin Kaepernick had no problem throwing the ball around against an inexperienced Rams secondary. He spread the ball around to multiple receivers on the 49ers first drive of the 3rd Quarter, ultimately throwing his 2nd Touchdown pass of the game on a play where he had to scramble around the backfield to avoid the Rams pass rush. Eventually, he bought himself enough time to whip a pass into the back of the end zone and into the arms of the trusty Anquan Boldin, who reeled it in for his 1st Touchdown catch of the season. Boldin's Touchdown gave the 49ers their first lead of the game, although by that point it almost seemed a foregone conclusion that they would find a way to take control. The Rams had no particular response, except for Davis getting sacked by Ahmad Brooks, and after punting back to San Francisco, Kaepernick hit Stevie Johnson for a pair of long completions to kick off a drive that finished with Michael Crabtree catching a crisp pass from Kaepernick on a post pattern in stride and waltzing into the End Zone for another Touchdown that put the 49ers ahead by 10 points.

The 4th Quarter of the game was mostly academic. The 49ers basically held court, mostly running the ball behind Gore and Hyde and eating up the clock. The Rams tried in vain to get themselves back into the game. Ultimately, they did manage to close the deficit to 7 points when they drove down and scored on a Greg Zuerlein Field Goal, but by that point, barely 2 minutes remained, and when the 49ers recovered the ensuing onside kick, they took even more time off the clock and forced the Rams to use their remaining Time Outs. The 49ers did punt the ball back to St. Louis, but their last second desperation drive was cut off rudely when Dontae Johnson intercepted Davis and ran the ball back for a 20-yard Touchdown that put the finishing touches on the 49ers 31-17 victory.

The 49ers now sit at 4-2 and things certainly look a lot better now than they did 3 weeks ago when the team was 1-2. Sound familiar? It should, since they did the same thing last season. This wasn't a perfect performance by the 49ers, and they still haven't clicked on all cylinders this season, but Kaepernick certainly had a great game, completing 22 of 36 passes for 343 yards and 3 Touchdowns with no Interceptions. He was generous with the ball, with Boldin catching 7 passes, Johnson 5 and Crabtree 3. Lloyd of course had his one show-stopper and Vernon Davis returned to action with 3 catches. Defensively, though Patrick Willis was lost for the game after Halftime with a toe injury that hopefully won't linger, the 49ers had a solid performance, holding Davis and the Rams to 3 points after the 1st Quarter and sacking him 5 times, two each for Skuta and Ahmad Brooks, and one for Antoine Bethea.

So, now, the 49ers will keep their Prime Time presence going when they're featured on the Biggest Game In The Galaxy next Sunday night, a game that stands to be an even bigger hype-fest because they're voyaging to the rarefied air of Denver to take on Peyton Manning and the Denver PeytonMannings PapaJohnsPizzas MeatCutters Broncos. That should be fun.

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