Rams have Niners' attention in tiebreaker

Both 49ers and Rams are looking to get untied

A second quicker on this play, another body on the line of scrimmage in that play, and the St. Louis Rams would have upset powerful San Francisco, a signature win in Year 1 of Jeff Fisher's rebuilding program. Instead, earlier this month the teams played to the NFL's first tie in four seasons.Think that didn't get the 49ers attention? You bet it did.

Three weeks later isn't soon enough for the class of the NFC West to get a do over.

"I would say everybody in the locker room is anxious to play these guys," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said of Sunday's rematch in St. Louis. "Last time they came in here, they were ready to play, they came out and punched us in the mouth a little bit, and by the time we woke up we found ourselves in a tie.

"This time we want to go into it ready from snap one, and see where things fall."

This time, they aim to show who's in charge.

"We have to do what we didn't do the first time we played them, and that's start fast," running back Frank Gore said. "We've got to go out there and try to start fast, and once we start fast we've got to keep our foot on the gas," Whitner said.

The notion that a 24-24 tie on Nov. 11 awoke a sleeping giant prompts a long pause from Fisher, who has already doubled the Rams' win total from last season. Fisher concedes nothing in his first season back in the NFL after a year's sabbatical.

"You can call it whatever you want. I wouldn't call it a wakeup call for them," Fisher said. "I'd call it a hard-fought physical game that neither team won, so ..."

The Rams (4-6-1) dominated the Niners (8-2-1) from a statistical standpoint, putting up 458 yards and going 9 for 18 on third- and fourth-down conversions. That was 114 more total yards than the NFL's second-ranked defense has allowed to any other opponent this season.

Rams missed out on opportunities at San Francisco


But the Rams missed out on their first victory at Candlestick Park since 2007 because of penalties that wiped out three golden opportunities.

Two of them nullified 142 yards in gains by Danny Amendola: a 62-yard punt return to the 49ers 2 in the third quarter that would have put the Rams on the doorstep of a 17-point cushion, and an 80-yard reception on the first snap of overtime – also to the 2. That was called back because they didn't have enough players on the line of scrimmage.

Rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein booted a potential winning 53-yard field goal in overtime, but just after the play clock elapsed because rookie holder Johnny Hekker lost track of time. Zuerlein couldn't convert on the 58-yard attempt that followed – it was long enough, but tailed off to the right – and the Rams got no more chances to squander.

So, of course the Rams think they can play with them.

"They're in our division and it once was a rivalry, so we just go back to that," cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. "You know what, I guess we've got to crank up our cars and put the gas pedal down.

"Let it be a game that people will remember."

So little time has passed, the rematch feels a bit like a continuation. Like it's still tied and waiting for somebody to make that keynote play.

49ers tight end Delanie Walker confessed he wasn't aware games could end in a tie.

"I don't know a lot of rules in the NFL," Walker said. "I know the basics. I just didn't know the rule at first. Now, I know."

For days after the first meeting, Rams defensive end Chris Long said it felt like a loss and he would have rather just keep playing.

"Absolutely," Long said. "I'm sure they feel the same way. It was a hard-fought game and now it's the tiebreaker. It'll be a heck of a game."

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh called it "an interesting way to look at it," before adding, "I think it's just new business. That game is finished business and this game coming up is new business."

Different game no doubt promises different outcome


Fisher expects a rematch that bears little resemblance to Game 1.

"Experience kind of suggests that when you play games three weeks or four weeks apart, the second game is usually completely different," Fisher said. "They don't mirror each other at all. We've got to take the same approach, the same physical approach, as they will into the game and then just make plays."

Both defenses set the tone in victories for both teams last week.

Whitner and linebacker Ahmad Brooks each returned interceptions for touchdowns and the 49ers had five sacks in a 31-21 victory at New Orleans. That's come to be expected in San Francisco, with a unit ranked second overall in the NFL, fourth against the pass and second against the run.

If not for the tie, the 49ers would be on a five-game winning streak.

Janoris Jenkins became the first rookie since 1960 and first Rams player to return two interceptions for touchdown in a game as the Rams won 31-17 at Arizona. St. Louis totaled four interceptions, emphatically ending a five-game turnover drought that was tied for the NFL's longest since 1950.

Fisher jokingly credited backup quarterback Kellen Clemens for providing turnover opportunities in practice last week, and again the day after the Rams finally broke through, saying Clemens "threw about a dozen picks."

Of course, he's not satisfied, noting the Rams have recovered one fumble all year.

"We were fortunate to come up with the interceptions," Fisher said. "But we still need to get on balls and knock them loose."

Just like the last meeting, the Rams will try their best to rattle an unproven quarterback. They had little success in San Francisco with second-year pro Colin Kaepernick, who stepped in after Alex Smith was sidelined by a concussion and rallied the 49ers to force overtime.

Harbaugh's decision to stick with Kaepernick, 2-0 as the starter, over a healthy Smith came as no surprise to the Rams. Kaepernick was steady if well shy of spectacular last week, passing for 231 yards and a touchdown, and Harbaugh said it came down to a player who had the "hot hand."

"It feels good that coach has confidence in me going out there," Kaepernick said. "You have their scheme fresh in your mind, you get a little refresher, so things come back to you pretty quick."

The 49ers are 4-1 on the road this year and 10-3 in two seasons under Harbaugh, tied with the Texans for the NFL's best record away from home over that span.

Another week, another dome.

"The Superdome is an extremely tough place to play. It's very loud," Whitner said. "It's going to help us this week."

‘Hot hand' keeps Kaepernick behind center


When Smith left the game after sustaining a hit against the Rams three weeks ago, Harbaugh believed Kaepernick could get the job done. Harbaugh feels the same when Smith is healthy, too.

After replacing Smith early in the second quarter three weeks ago, Kaepernick finished that game and went 11 for 17 for 117 yards while adding 66 yards and a touchdown rushing. Smith was forced to sit out a 32-7 victory over Chicago the next Monday night, and Kaepernick shined again.

He went 16 for 23 for 243 yards and two touchdowns, earning another start against New Orleans last Sunday despite Smith being cleared to play.

Kaepernick finished 16 of 25 with a TD pass while rushing for another score in a 31-21 win. Since replacing Smith against St. Louis, Kaepernick has a 104.1 passer rating while tossing three touchdowns and running for two more.

Those numbers are enough for Harbaugh to give the second-year pro another start, something Kaepernick appreciates.

''I don't know if it's a hot hand. Whatever you want to call it. I'm just happy I get to go back out there,'' Kaepernick said. ''It's a great chance to lead this team and show we're a great team and we can go into the playoffs.''

Harbaugh contends, though, Smith did not necessarily lose his job. Kaepernick simply has been playing well enough to deserve another shot.

"Both deserve it," Harbaugh said. "Alex over a long period of time, Colin by virtue of the last two games. What tips the scales is Colin we believe has the hot hand, and we'll go with Colin. And we'll go with Alex. Both are our guys."

Frank Gore, who ran for 83 yards and caught a 6-yard TD pass from Kaepernick last week, believes the 49ers (8-2-1) are in good hands no matter who is under center.

Gore has scored seven touchdowns as San Francisco has won four of five road meetings with the Rams.

"We've got two quarterbacks, and looking around the league a lot of teams can't say that," Gore said. "Alex won a lot of games. Kap has won the last two games.

"You're just going to be behind whoever coach says is the starting quarterback."

Niners ‘slightly different' with Kap at the controls


Fisher has the luxury of seeing Kaepernick first-hand, unlike San Francisco's previous two opponents.

''When he's in the game, you have to be ready for a slightly different offense,'' Fisher said.

St. Louis (4-6-1) will be looking to build off its impressive road win over Arizona last week that ended a five-game winless streak.

"This game is really going to tell us who we are as a team," Fisher said. "They're the team to beat in our division. We got close but didn't get it done the first time, so it should be a good challenge for us."

Amendola had 11 catches for 102 yards in the first meeting with the 49ers, but he played only seven snaps last week and caught a 38-yard pass from Sam Bradford while being limited due to a heel injury.

He hopes to play this week.

''I guess we'll see,'' Amendola said. ''It's getting better each and every day, so it's just a matter of how I feel at the end of the week."

Rookie Chris Givens filled in nicely last week, finishing with career highs of five catches and 115 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown.

''I don't think there is a ceiling for him, I think he can be as good as he wants to be,'' Bradford said. ''He can stretch a defense. We can also throw him a quick screen pass and he can turn that into a big play, too.''

Steven Jackson rushed for 101 yards and a score against the 49ers in the first meeting and is coming off a season-best 139-yard performance against Arizona, helping St. Louis run for a season-high 173.

''He took over,'' Bradford said. ''I have seen it before. He gets that look in his eye and he is not going to be stopped.''

The 49ers, though, have allowed only 144 rushing yards over their last two games and rank fourth in the NFL, giving up 91.1 per contest.

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