By Sam McPherson
The San Francisco 49ers finally made some quality halftime adjustments, and the result was a come-from-behind, 19-16 overtime win at Levi's Stadium over the St. Louis Rams in the final game of the season on Sunday. Trailing by six at halftime, the 49ers defense tossed a shutout in the second half, and San Francisco's offense mustered three field goals to win the game. The 49ers finished the 2015 regular season with a 5-11 record and a last-place finish in the NFC West Division for the first time since 2005.
With the victory, San Francisco finishes the home season with a 4-4 record at Levi's, the site of Super Bowl 50 in five weeks. The 49ers won't be playing in that game, of course, but the team found itself waltzing away on a high note nonetheless. The team was just 1-5 since its bye week in mid-November, facing the possibility of a four-game losing streak to end the season. However, Head Coach Jim Tomsula got his S.F. roster up for the conclusion of the season, and the reward for that effort was a nice overtime win.
With a season-high mark of 458 yards of total offense, the 49ers came alive—somewhat. Of course, they had to settle for four field goals, but it was enough to win the game in the end, thanks to the defense. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert played pretty well, making just one mistake on the day: He completed 28-of-44 passes for 354 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The INT led to the Rams only TD; otherwise, perhaps the 49ers would have won this game in regulation.
The running game was adequate, as the running backs combined for 26 carries and 101 yards, although most of that came on one play: DuJuan Harris' 47-yard run in the second quarter which led to the 49ers first FG of the day. Harris also led the team with eight catches and 86 yards receiving, perhaps giving himself a great shot at a starting job in 2016 somewhere in the NFL. Overall, Gabbert completed passes to nine different receivers, including the only TD of the day to wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
Despite not having their best player on the field (Todd Gurley), the Rams still ran for 133 yards against the 49ers defense. That wasn't a good sign for San Francisco, as the defense was on the field for a whopping 38:30 of game time. QB Case Keenum was nothing special, though, as the 49ers secondary kept the St. Louis receivers mostly in check. Keenum threw for just 231 yards on the day, failing to take advantage of a decent running game.
The big statistic here was holding the Rams offense to just 3-for-13 on third-down conversions, and that led to the St. Louis offense attempting five field goals. Fortunately, Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein only made three of them. Overall, St. Louis gained 364 yards on offense even without their best player. The 49ers defense bent plenty, but it didn't break much.
Special Teams: A
Two things stand out here. First, kicker Phil Dawson was 4-for-4 in FG attempts, and that proved to be the difference in the game. Second, the 49ers were able to block the Rams overtime FG attempt that would have given St. Louis an early lead in the extra session. As it turns out, the block by Dontae Johnson allowed San Francisco to win the game outright with its own FG a few minutes later.
Credit has to go to Tomsula for once again rallying his troops for a home game against a better team. Even if the Rams didn't have their best player, they still have talent on both sides of the ball. The 49ers stepped up to that talent and proved they have some of their own—and then some. The halftime adjustments enabled the S.F. players to overcome a deficit and win, something that hasn't happened enough in 2015. If Tomsula is back next season, this win may be one of the big reasons why he returns.
It's too bad the season had to end Sunday, because this may have been the 49ers best overall effort since Week 1. Momentum going forward would have been nice to observe. Now, however, we will have to wait until September 2016 to see what the San Francisco organization has in store next.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.
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