It was the kind of matchup that NFL fans — and television executives — dream about.
The Rams, with ascending quarterback Jared Goff and a bevy of other stars and high-profile offseason additions, against the San Francisco 49ers and franchise-shifting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
A new era in the NFC West, a rivalry reborn. A color-rush uniform frenzy perfect for prime-time “Sunday Night Football.”
That was before the season. Seven weeks in, it’s a different story. And a one-sided one at that.
Bay Area native Goff is flourishing, the Rams are 6-0 and they remain a favorite to play in the Super Bowl under second-year coach Sean McVay.
Garoppolo, awarded a $137.5-million contract in February, is recovering from a season-ending knee injury suffered in Week 3. Coach Kyle Shanahan’s team is off to a 1-5 start.
So it was no surprise that the league “flexed” out of Sunday’s game at Levi’s Stadium and opted to make Cincinnati vs. Kansas City the national prime-time offering.
“This is a good football team,” McVay said of the 49ers. “I don't care what their record says.”
The 49ers’ problems started days before their opener, when running back Jerick McKinnon suffered a season-ending knee injury.
The 49ers’ confidence remained high because they still had Garoppolo. After Shanahan and general manager John Lynch sent New England a second-round pick last October, Tom Brady’s former understudy went 5-0 as the 49ers starter.
Among Garoppolo’s victories: a season-ending win over the Rams, who rested starters in advance of the playoffs.
But Garoppolo’s 2018 season was over before the end of September. Rather than running out of bounds late against Kansas City, he turned upfield and tore a knee ligament, ending his season.
“All that stuff takes a toll on you, but after a couple days, you don't have much time to think about it,” Shanahan said. “You've always got a game coming up and you got to move on.”
The 49ers are trying to get by with second-year quarterback C.J. Beathard. Last Monday, Beathard kept the 49ers in their game against Green Bay. But he had a pass intercepted late in the fourth quarter, enabling Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to engineer a game-winning drive for a field goal and a 33-30 victory.
“They scored 30 points … so I don't see anything wrong with their offense for sure,” Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “They look strong in that area and the quarterback has filled in really well.”
That is not expected to be enough against a Rams team that has won with standout efforts at different times from the offense, defense and special teams.
“It seems like every week it's a different way, which is awesome,” Goff said.
Last week at Denver, the Rams won with a career-high 208-yard rushing effort from Todd Gurley and a defense that made good on its promise to shut down the run.
With Goff back in the Bay Area, where he grew up and attended college at California, it could be another chance for him to shine.
“He's very balanced in the pocket — nothing seems to really get him rattled,” Shanahan said. “When people are open or even when they're not, he puts the ball where he needs to.
“He's playing as good as anyone."
Goff is looking forward to playing before a large contingent of family and friends.
“A lot of people that I grew up with that are still Niners fans is the best part,” he said, “to kind of get a chance to play against them and have them kind of maybe root against me.