The Los Angeles Rams entered the week tied atop the NFC West. The 49ers were alone in last place.
But through the first 2 1/2 quarters on Sunday, it was difficult to distinguish the top from the bottom.
San Francisco was well on its way to a season sweep -- and then things got interesting. But the 49ers came back in the final minutes and finished off the Rams with Robbie Gould’s 42-yard field goal as time expired for a 23-20 upset victory in their debut appearance at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.
The win completed the season sweep of Los Angeles. With the victory over his close friend, Kyle Shanahan has now collected four consecutive wins over Sean McVay’s Rams.
The 49ers improved to 5-6 and remain in the NFC playoff picture.
Here are three things you need to know about the 49ers’ win in Los Angeles:
Offense looks different with these guys
Just as the 49ers did when they played the Rams earlier this season, they made life easy on their own quarterback.
Deebo Samuel caught 11 passes for 134 yards, including a big play that set up Gould’s game-winning field goal.
Nick Mullens got off to a shaky start, but he gained some momentum when he took a shotgun snap from Daniel Brunskill and basically dropped the ball forward into Samuel's hands.
Samuel turned it into a 33-yard gain on what was basically a jet sweep. Then, Mullens found Samuel down the field for a 26-yard gain.
The 49ers’ offense is noticeably different when Samuel and running back Raheem Mostert are on the field. Mostert got the 49ers on the board when he took a handoff and sped to the corner for an 8-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He finished with 43 yards on 16 carries.
Mullens completed 24 of 35 pass attempts for 253 yards, and made the plays down the stretch on the team’s winning drive.
Aaron Donald: Game-wrecker
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is on the shortlist of the NFL's best players. And it has been that way for a while.
In 2018, then-49ers left tackle Joe Staley said of Donald, “I don’t think there’s anybody that’s been like him in the NFL. He’s in a class of his own."
Nothing has changed. The 49ers did a good job against Donald when the clubs met in Week 6. But he was a wrecking ball on Sunday. He took over the game in the third quarter to enable the Rams to rally back from a 14-point deficit.
Donald found success against 49ers’ right tackle Mike McGlinchey.
He split McGlinchey and right guard Colton McKivitz and forced a Mostert fumble. Cornerback Troy Hill scooped it up and returned the fumble 20 yards for a touchdown to pull the Rams within 17-13.
On the 49ers’ next possession, Donald beat McGlinchey for a sack on first down to lead to a three-and-out. On the Rams' ensuing possession, running back Cam Akers ripped off a 61-yard run. Two plays later, he scored on a 1-yard run to give Los Angeles the lead.
Donald got the Rams back in the game, but it was not enough to lead his team to victory.
The 49ers’ front seven steps up
Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens and Kerry Hyder stepped up in a big way for the 49ers’ depleted defensive line.
In addition to Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, who have been out since early in the season with injuries, the 49ers did not have D.J. Jones or Jordan Willis available for Sunday’s game, as they both were on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list.
The 49ers took an 11-point lead in the opening minute of the second half when Givens, making his first NFL start, hit Rams quarterback Jared Goff as he was throwing. Kinlaw, who dropped into coverage, made the interception. Hyder then turned into a blocker and escorted Kinlaw into the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown.
The defensive score gave the 49ers a 14-3 lead.
Free safety Jimmie Ward did his part on the back end, as he forced two fumbles. Givens and Hyder came through with the fumble recoveries. Hyder registered two sacks to extend his team lead to 7.5 for the season.