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49ers might have been down, but show they are not out after handling Rams

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle runs toward the end zone for a touchdown against the Rams.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle found a big hole in the middle of the Rams defense and turned a reception into a touchdown.
(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Imagine that. Six weeks into the regular season, and the only NFC West team people were shoveling dirt on was the San Francisco 49ers, a club that had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.

For too long, the 49ers’ tightest spiral was their downward one.

They reversed that in a big way Sunday night, showing an unexpected burst of intensity in a 24-16 victory over the Rams at Levi’s Stadium.

“We always have a pretty big sense of urgency, but I think when you get embarrassed like we did last week, you can find out a lot about your team,” said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, whose team was coming off a 43-17 home loss to Miami. “We came in on Monday and it was a hard day, but … I was very impressed by the character of our team.”

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Shanahan said the season could have gone one of two ways after a humiliating loss like that.

“Guys either give in because it gets too hard, and they try to hide and point fingers,” he said. “Or guys try to step it up and get better.”

The Rams won four games against the feeble NFC East, but a loss at San Francisco reminds them that the NFC West is going to be a difficult division to tackle.

It’s clear which path the 49ers chose. The Rams, meanwhile, showed all the life of the cardboard cutouts in the stands.

They groped for their offensive rhythm but could never find it, and — a week after eight sacks against Washington — couldn’t apply that same defensive pressure on 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who’s still healing from a high ankle sprain and has limited mobility. The Rams had zero sacks.

A pivotal play came early. On the second snap of the second quarter, a fourth-and-two from the Rams’ 44, Garoppolo beat the blitz with a pass over the middle to George Kittle. The tight end found a seam down the middle, eluded a diving tackle attempt by cornerback Darious Williams, and high-stepped his way to the end zone.

“We had a pretty good look,” Shanahan said. “Kittle beat the man coverage. It was a good throw, good protection. It was awesome. House call.”

Before Sunday night, San Francisco’s only two victories came in back-to-back games at MetLife Stadium — a house of horrors for them in terms of injuries — against New York Jets and Giants teams that are a combined 1-11.

Jared Goff and Cooper Kupp struggled to connect on potential game-changing passes in the Rams’ 24-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

For the Rams, this loss was a harsh reminder that, limping or not, the 49ers are still the defending NFC champions. They aren’t those four NFC East tomato cans the Rams knocked out in the first five weeks of the season.

Still, the 49ers have the toughest remaining schedule in the league. Five of their next six opponents made the playoffs last season. And as well as they played Sunday night, they are far from consistent.

The Rams, still in search of a signature victory over a top-notch team, have another test next week when they play host to Chicago in a Monday night game at SoFi Stadium.

Through the first five weeks of the season, the Rams were the only NFL team ranked in the top five in both offense and defense. That balance was not on display Sunday night.

Now, they’re heading into the teeth of their schedule, and have five of their six division games in the second half of the season.

There are reasons for optimism among the Rams. Since Sean McVay took over as coach in 2017, they have never lost to the Arizona Cardinals and have never scored fewer than 31 points in any of those six games. Every matchup is a new game, but they give the Cardinals problems.

Breaking down the big numbers behind the Rams’ 24-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night.

Likewise, the McVay-coached Rams are 4-2 against Seattle, and those two losses were by a combined seven points. The Rams usually play well against quarterback Russell Wilson, who is off to an MVP-type start for the Seahawks, who at 5-0 are the NFC’s only undefeated team.

But the loss to San Francisco was a bucket of ice water to the face of the Rams — and an about-face for the 49ers.

They could have fallen victims to a Rams team on a roll. Instead, like Kittle down the middle, San Francisco sidestepped that trouble and ran its way back to relevance. Los Angeles dodgers of a different sort.


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