SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

49ers second-half struggles allow Rams 21-20 win to close regular season

Jan 7, 2024, 5:45 PM | Updated: 6:02 pm

Byron Young #0 of the Los Angeles Rams sacks Sam Darnold #14 of the San Francisco 49ers in the four...

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With several starters resting in a meaningless Week 18 matchup, Rams-49ers turned into another entertaining clash. This time however, the visiting team got the victory in the end.

The San Francisco 49ers lost their regular-season finale to the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, falling, 21-20, in the end. SF held a 20-7 lead at halftime, unable to score another point the rest of the afternoon.

But with one chance late, the 49ers could have stolen the game back. And then the backup quarterback made his biggest blunder of the game. Here’s what happened.

The 49ers and their offense are hot to open the game, going on a 12-play drive. Backup QB Sam Darnold was inserted into the contest with Brock Purdy on the sidelines. Darnold didn’t disappoint, hitting wide receiver Deebo Samuel for six yards, and tight end Charlie Woerner for 20 yards to get the game started. He converted a number of plays over the next few minutes, eventually hitting WR Brandon Aiyuk for a first and goal.

A few plays later, running back Elijah Mitchell converted a third and 1, running through the defense for six points.

7-0 49ers, after a 7-1/2 minute drive to open the game.

The visitors responded with a well-orchestrated drive of their own, going 11 plays to the endzone.

Backup QB Carson Wentz was also good to start Week 18, getting a first down to TE Dennis Allen for nine yards. Then, RB Ronnie Rivers chew up 10 more yards on a nice run call.

The Rams faced a third and three at one point and got stopped, forced into a fourth down. But Wentz was able to solve it, converting to Allen for a 10-yard pickup. The next play, WR Puka Nacua ran a great slot fade route to the corner of the endzone, catching the pass over cornerback Charvarius Ward for the score.

7-7 all after the first quarter.

The 49ers rebounded with another touchdown drive next, going 16 plays.

SF’s second drive got started by Samuel, taking a crossing route for 15 yards on a grown-man run. Then, RB Jordan Mason got some carries, mustering runs of six and 16 yards to keep the drive going. He later converted a fourth down with a hard-nosed one yard gain.

Mitchell got some run after that, picking up 14 yards into a first and goal. The 49ers were bailed out next, thanks to a defensive holding call on the Rams. A few players later, Darnold took a QB sneak into the endzone.

14-7 49ers halfway through the second quarter.

The Red & Gold caught a break next, with Wentz giving the ball back to them. The Rams QB threw a fastball to WR Tutu Atwell, running through his hands and falling to safety Tayler Hawkins for the interception. It was Hawkins’ first INT of his NFL career.

Sadly, SF couldn’t capitalize, running six plays before attempting the field-goal try. On came rookie Jake Moody, missing the 38-yard kick wide right to leave the score at 14-7.

The 49ers defense was up for the task though, only allowing one first down on the next series. Eventually, the Rams had to punt it away.

San Francisco were able to convert one more score before half, largely due to Darnold’s biggest play of the day. The QB bought some time in the pocket, eventually finding WR Chris Conley for a 48-yard catch and run. A few plays later, the gunslinger found rookie Ronnie Bell for another TD.

20-7 49ers into halftime. Moody missed the PAT, the first of his NFL career.

After a first half of good football, the second half went to hell for the 49ers, unable to score another point. At one point in the fourth quarter, they had -8 net yards of offense. Their final four possesses went as followed: Punt, punt, punt and a fumble.

On the other end, the Rams clawed back into the contest thanks to aggressive play-calling and long drives.

LA opened the third quarter with a 10-minute drive lasting 17 plays. They converted 3/4 fourth downs in Week 18, doing so mostly in the second half. Eventually, the Rams got into scoring position with a 29-yard pickup to TE Brycen Hopkins on a third and long. A few plays later, Wentz found WR a Tyler Johnson for the score.

20-13 49ers after K Brett Maher missed the extra point.

After a six-play drive by the 49ers, the Rams came back with a 12-play drive. This time however, it ended with a turnover on downs, as Wentz was ruled down by contact after a 49ers’ challenge.

San Francisco was unable to get back into rhythm, going three and out.

LA responded with a quick drive next, going five plays to the house to take the lead.

The drive started with Wentz taking a deep shot, able to draw a pass interference call on Hawkins. Now down in the 49ers’ territory, the QB used his legs to do the rest, running in from 12 yards to tie it up with under five minutes to play.

LA went for two points, as Wentz connected with Atwell for the conversion. 21-20, Rams.

The 49ers went three and out next, giving the ball back to the Rams.

The visitors had their chance to ice the game, chewing up almost three minutes of clock. But after six plays, they were forced to punt it back to the 49ers for one last drive.

Darnold had his moment, but sadly came up short.

After converting an 18-yard pass to Conley, Darnold was forced to step up in the pocket on the ensuing play. With pass rushers closing in, the ball was hit out of his hands and fell to defensive end Byron Young for the turnover.

Game. Set. Match.

The 49ers lose their regular-season finale, 21-20, at home, pushing their record to 12-5 on the year. And while the Red & Gold would have loved to win the game, the most important thing is not suffering any significant injuries. Only backup DE Clelin Ferrell and Tayler Hawkins suffered ailments, with both seen as not serious.

“The whole game,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said postgame about worrying for injuries. “You know, you want to get a win, but you also want to make sure [no one gets hurt]. It’s unfortunate to have [the injury] to [Clelin Ferrell].”

The 49ers coach relayed that Ferrell did not suffer an ACL or MCL injury, but will need an MRI to confirm the extent.

San Francisco now goes into the postseason with the best record in the conference and a much-needed Bye Week. It’s likely they’ll use that time to help Jake Moody with his struggles, missing his first kick inside 40 yards, and his first extra point, in his NFL career.

“It’s never good when you miss,” Shanahan said about Moody Sunday. “But he’s had a hell of a year, he’s done a hell of a job up to this point. Just had a rough day today.”

There is no consideration into alternate kickers at this time for the 49ers.

Upcoming San Francisco 49ers Schedule

  • Sunday, Jan. 7th vs. Los Angeles Rams – 1:25 PM PST
  • January 13-14 – NFL Playoffs (Wild Card Round) – BYE
  • January 20-21 – NFC Divisional Round

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