Here’s why the 49ers’ rise in the NFC could mean big trouble for the Rams
The San Francisco 49ers are stacking victories like logs, and felling quarterbacks like trees.
The latest, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, trudged out of the visitors’ locker room Sunday night with his suitcase in tow and a vaguely shell-shocked look on his face.
Said Rodgers after the 37-8 defeat: “There wasn’t a whole lot positive tonight.”
Depends on your perspective. The 49ers are riding high at 10-1, with the league’s top-ranked defense and a plus-169 points differential, the club’s best since 1948.
Rodgers was sacked five times, hurried six more, and absorbed two big hits just as he got the ball out. What was billed as a showdown between two of the league’s best teams wound up a laugher.
And, on a national stage, it was a seismic shudder for the rest of the NFL. A year after going 4-12, the 49ers stand a good chance of adding a sixth Lombardi Trophy to their collection, and their relentless pass rush is the main reason why.
All that damage against the Packers — including a strip sack of Rodgers on the fifth snap of the game — and the 49ers didn’t even have Pro Bowl pass rusher Dee Ford in the lineup.
The San Francisco 49ers’ 37-8 blowout of the Green Bay Packers in prime time underlines their status as the biggest force to be reckoned with in the NFC.
The rebuilding of this franchise started with a remolding of the defensive front, which features five first-round picks: Nick Bosa (second pick in 2019), DeForest Buckner (seventh in 2016), Solomon Thomas (third in 2017), Arik Armstead (17th in 2015) and Ford (23rd in 2014).
Without question, they have won the respect of teammates on the other side of the ball.
“They just shut down one of the best to ever play football in Aaron Rodgers,” 49ers tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “That’s pretty impressive.”
Rodgers completed 20 of 33 for 104 yards with a touchdown and a modest 75.8 passer rating (compared with the 145.8 rating by San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo.)
“That’s Aaron Rodgers, future Hall of Famer, one of the best quarterbacks in this history of this game,” 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said. “I don’t know how many times he’s been held to  yards throwing in his career.”
Said Buckner of Rodgers: “We knew he was Houdini in the pocket. You know he’s going to make plays and extend them… When we couldn’t get to him and he got the ball out, we had to make sure that we could, obviously legally, hit him and try to get him on the ground as much as we could, and make him pick himself up so we can wear him out a little bit.”
Good as they are, the 49ers aren’t running away with the NFC West. Seattle looms large in their rear-view mirror, and the Seahawks beat San Francisco in overtime two weeks ago. The teams meet again in a regular-season finale at Seattle, and the division could hang in the balance.
All this is bad news for the Rams, who have lost at Seattle and at home to the 49ers, and have a steep uphill climb even for a wild-card spot. A big step comes Monday night against Baltimore, which has won six in a row and has the league’s leading MVP candidate in quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Ravens’ Lamar Jackson is the only quarterback in NFL history to produce at least 2,000 yards passing and 700 rushing through a season’s first 10 games.
Teams are faltering all over the league. Dallas has yet to beat anyone with a winning record, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones seemed to put coach Jason Garrett on notice after Sunday’s loss at New England. Quarterback Carson Wentz had a terrible day in a home loss to Seattle. And, it’s not as if his team is going anywhere, but… Washington rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins missed the final snap in his first career victory because he was too busy taking a selfie with a fan.
The stumbles of the Rams, notably losses to beatable Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh teams, are bad but not necessarily fatal. It’s likely going to take an 11-5 record to secure a wild-card spot in the NFC, meaning the Rams would have to go at least 5-1 down the stretch for a realistic chance to make the postseason for the third consecutive year under Sean McVay.
As it stands, though, the 49ers have all the momentum to keep rolling through teams. The Rams and their patchwork offensive line will have their hands full playing here on Dec. 21. Just as Rodgers did Sunday night.
“This pass rush is the identity of the team, the core of the team,” said Greg Papa, 49ers play-by-play announcer for KNBR. “Most of the teams that have a rush like this have a nickname. They’re the Fearsome Foursome, they’re the Purple People Eaters, they’re the Steel Curtain, Doomsday. You think of any great pass rush, this one is there.”
Papa has taken to calling them the Gold Rush, which is good but for one small detail: “That’s what they call the cheerleaders.”
If that’s their biggest issue, the 49ers are doing just fine.
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