Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams took a significant 17-3 lead into the half of Sunday's regular-season finale against the 49ers, but looked like a completely different team in the final 30 minutes.
Legendary 49ers quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young went on KNBR this week, and explained what about McVay's gameplan mesmerized him in the second half.
“You can’t tell me there’s not an All-Pro, first-round draft choice quarterback, a couple of great receivers and you’re just going to run right into the line three times, make them call their timeouts and punt? That’s what the Jaguars would do or whoever!” Young said (H/T Jake Montero). “Are you not going to go win this? Go win it! You’re the Rams! You’re going to win the division! Go win it! So it says a lot to me that they didn’t go win it. What is that? It baffles me.”
The Rams got the ball back after a 49ers punt with 1:50 remaining, just needing a single first down to doom the 49ers' chances of rallying from a then-seven-point deficit. As Young said, LA simply ran the ball three times and punted it back to the 49ers with no timeouts. Jimmy Garoppolo led an impressive drive to even the score with 26 seconds remaining, and the rest is history.
Young also had a hard time understanding why McVay elected to try throwing the ball down the field again and again in the second half with the 49ers ratcheting up their pressure.
“The second half, you can see that the 49ers are gaining momentum, and you’re going to take the deep drops to try to get it to Odell Beckham Jr. and then Stafford is trying to climb in the pocket and just disappearing,” Young said. “Like the pocket just disappeared, right? The Rams have a short game. They have a game to get out, get people running, get people moving, get it in people’s hands in space.
“Get OBJ to have the ball in space, have we not figured that out in two months? Can we not get Cooper Kupp – he’s tremendous within five, seven yards. Like, find spaces, get moving. I was like what are you guys doing, dropping deep, getting jammed up?”
The 49ers' win clinched them a playoff spot, and the team will travel to Dallas for a wild-card battle with the Cowboys. This matchup won't have quite the same gravity as some past postseason clashes between the storied franchises, but it will be one of the more intriguing games of the NFL's first playoff weekend of 2022.