Cast in the unfamiliar role of a team on the rise, the St. Louis Rams showcased their ascendancy by dominating their longtime nemesis.
Mike Jones returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown, and Kurt Warner threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Isaac Bruce as the Rams beat San Francisco 23-7 on Sunday, sending the 49ers to a sixth straight loss.
It's San Francisco's longest skid since 1980, and the loss ensured an end to the 49ers' string of 16 straight 10-victory seasons.
"We've caught up. Teams never stay where they are. We're not as bad we used to be. They're not as good they used to be."
Marshall Faulk ran for 126 yards on 21 carries, and Jeff Wilkins kicked field goals of 20, 40 and 49 yards for the Rams, who won in San Francisco for the first time since 1990 and completed their first season sweep in 20 years.
The Rams (8-2), who have a four-game lead in the NFC West with six to play, ended a 17-game losing streak to the 49ers in a 42-20 victory in St. Louis on Oct. 10.
"This means a lot," said Bruce, a six-year veteran who had never beaten the 49ers until this season. "I went through a lot of torment trying to win games here. It's usually over in the first quarter. I didn't recognize out there. There have been a lot of changes."
San Francisco (3-7) managed to score its first offensive touchdown in four games on Fred Beasley's 1-yard run in the second quarter, but it wasn't nearly enough to overcome five turnovers.
"We've had a long run of good fortune but it seems like a lot things his year are hitting us all at once," San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci said. "Nobody said it was easy and it's not easy. But we've got six games left. You're going to see this football team improve and we're going to find a way to win some games."
Steve Stenstrom threw an interception, and Jeff Garcia, who came on late in the third quarter for the ineffective Stenstrom, threw two more. They are a combined 1-6 in seven starts since Steve Young went down Sept. 27 with a concussion.
Rams defenders also racked up seven sacks and grabbed fumbles by Garcia and wide receiver Terrell Owens. San Francisco failed to score in the second half for a third straight game.
"We got in the end zone today. That's a positive," said Jerry Rice, who didn't catch a pass until the third quarter and finished with three receptions for 23 yards.
"This is probably the lowest I've ever seen it," added Rice, complaining he feels left out of the offense. "We're just not putting any points on the board. It's very frustrating, very tough to swallow."
Leading 13-7, St. Louis, often derisively referred to by San Francisco as the "same old Rams" at the height of the 49ers' dominance, broke the game open on Jones' interception midway through the third quarter.
D'Marco Farr tipped Stenstrom's pass and it wobbled to Jones, who went down the sideline, brushed off Stenstrom's tackle at the 20 and dove into the end zone ahead of a three San Francisco pursuers.
Warner led a 78-yard drive in the last 1:41 of the second quarter, and Wilkins kicked his second field goal, a 20-yarder, to put the Rams in front 13-7 at halftime.
San Francisco, held to six points in each of its two previous games, got off to a slow start, with a pair of 1-yard runs, two sacks and a fumble by Stenstrom accounting for five of its first six plays.
With St. Louis in front on Wilkins' first field goal, a 40-yarder, the 49ers finally mounted a drive. Charlie Garner's 30-yard run moved the 49ers to the 4, and one play later, Beasley bulled his way into the end zone, ending San Francisco's 13-quarter string without an offensive touchdown.
But the Rams answered on their ensuing possession with Warner finishing a 71-yard drive with a TD pass Bruce, who had 11 catches for 93 yards on the day.
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