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What we learned as 49ers' incredible comeback clinches playoff spot

/ by Matt Maiocco
Presented By Toyota
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INGLEWOOD -- A roller-coaster 49ers season took all kinds of turns Sunday, ending in a 27-24 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Rams to clinch an NFL playoff berth for San Francisco.

After falling behind 17-0 in the first half, the 49ers clawed back and outlasted the Rams, and earned a trip to the playoffs for the second time in coach Kyle Shanahan's five-year tenure.

The 49ers got the ball first in overtime and took up more than seven minutes of the clock before settling for a Robbie Gould 24-yard field goal with 2:45 remaining.

On the Rams' ensuing possession, quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a deep pass that 49ers rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas intercepted, sealing the victory for San Francisco (10-7).

But just to make it to overtime, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had to lead the 49ers on an 89-yard drive to tie the score at 24 at the end of regulation.

The 49ers took over on their own 11-yard line with 1:27 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Garoppolo marched his team down the field with relative ease. Garoppolo found a wide-open Jauan Jennings for a 14-yard game-tying touchdown pass with 26 seconds remaining.

The 49ers entered Week 18 in control of their own destiny, as they could wrap up a playoff spot with a victory over the Rams. And if they failed in that assignment, a Falcons victory over the New Orleans Saints would be enough to punch San Francisco's ticket.

 

But the Saints took care of the Falcons 30-20, so the 49ers had to do all the work themselves. They did, and will face the NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys in the wild-card round next week.

Here are the three main takeaways from the 49ers' season-saving win over the Rams (12-5):

Could they pull off the comeback of comebacks?

When the 49ers were down 17-0 in the second half, you would’ve been well within your rights to turn off the TV.

There was little hope. In fact, there seemed to be no hope.

The 49ers kicked a field goal at the end of the half, then opened the second half with a seven-play, 75-yard drive that Deebo Samuel capped with a 16-yard TD run.

After the defense forced a three-and-out, the 49ers scored the tying points with an 11-play, 74-yard drive that began with 10 consecutive running plays.

The first non-running play was a trick play on which Samuel took a toss and lofted a 24-yard TD pass to Jennings, who juggled it a little just for dramatic effect before latching onto the ball while tumbling backward to the ground.

The 49ers and the Rams entered the fourth quarter in a 17-17 game, before chaos ensued in the fourth quarter and overtime.

A little of everything from Jimmy G, 49ers' offense

Garoppolo was cleared to start just two weeks after sustaining a Grade 3 ligament tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb.

The veteran didn't show any noticeable signs that his throwing was limited with his taped-up hand, though he did fumble for a 14-yard loss when Rams defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson poked the ball away from the veteran QB, who was holding it in his right hand.

Garoppolo also threw a second-quarter interception, as the ball hung in the air after he was hit while throwing.

Garoppolo finally got something going at the end of the first half, though, when he completed four passes for 51 yards to set up Robbie Gould’s 42-yard field goal as time expired. The 49ers went to halftime trailing 17-3.

It marked the fifth time this season the 49ers had scored points with no time remaining in the first half. They scored points with 18 seconds or less remaining in the first half in 10 of their 17 games this season.

Garoppolo completed 9 of 12 passes for 90 yards and no TDs with one interception in the first half, and finished the game 23-of-32 passing for 316 yards and one TD with two picks.

No matchup for Kupp in the slot

The 49ers probably didn't have any answers for Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp anyway, but they certainly didn't after listing nickel back K’Waun Williams among the team’s inactive players.

Williams was activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday, but he told the team he wasn't up to playing, a source told NBC Sports Bay Area. Williams traveled to LA and watched the game from the sideline.

 

Kupp leads the NFL in receptions, yards and touchdowns. The 49ers didn't have a chance.

Williams’ absence — along with Deommodore Lenoir being on the COVID list — forced San Francisco to turn to veteran Dontae Johnson to play nickel back.

That mismatch was exposed on the Rams’ first series of the game. On a third-and-9 situation, Kupp worked free on a deep route against Johnson, and Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford hit his target for a 46-yard gain.

As the Rams built a 17-0 lead, Kupp caught all five passes Stafford threw his way for 84 yards. Kupp finished with seven receptions for 118 yards and one TD.

The 49ers also had trouble in the first half against Rams tight end Tyler Higbee, who caught four passes for 34 yards and two touchdowns before halftime. He got behind free safety Jimmie Ward after a play-fake on a fourth-down play from the 2-yard line.

The Rams built their big lead in the first half through their ability to convert on seven of their 10 third-down attempts.

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