Legit playoff contender? Rams lose to 49ers but defy expectations again

?url=https%3A%2F%2Fcalifornia times brightspot.s3.amazonaws.com%2F35%2Fbd%2F63056fdb4b7d8e75ae0a72d5669a%2F1347288 sp rams 49ers 27 gmf

Onward with optimism. Quell those doubts. Don’t completely pause that playoff talk.

The Rams are … legit?

It’s still too early to make that a definitive statement.

But the Rams, despite a 30-23 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at SoFi Stadium, showed again that they might be significantly better than poor preseason projections.

Forty-niners coach Kyle Shanahan continued his dominance over Rams coach Sean McVay during the regular season.

But it was not a rout. Nor was it an easy victory for a 49ers team regarded as a Super Bowl contender.

However on a day when friction between running back Cam Akers and McVay once again appeared to manifest, the Rams were undone by two second-half turnovers. And they once again failed to defeat the 49ers in the regular season, a streak that extends to nine games and dates to 2018.

With Akers inactive as a healthy scratch, Rams running back Kyren Williams scored two more touchdowns. A Matthew Stafford pass bounced off his hands in the third quarter, however, and was intercepted, opening the door for the 49ers.

Another interception by 49ers cornerback Deommodore Lenoir with less than five minutes left sealed the Rams’ defeat and left them 1-1 overall and in the NFC West.

The Rams will not play the 49ers again until the season finale. Shanahan told Bay Area reporters last week that the two teams would be different when they played again in January.

How different remains to be seen.

By beating the Seattle Seahawks, 30-13, in their opener, the Rams seemingly destroyed the notion that they would not eclipse the 6½ wins that Vegas oddsmakers projected for a team coming off a horrid 5-12 season in 2022.

For much of the game Sunday, it looked as if the Rams might end their regular-season futility against the 49ers, who routed the Pittsburgh Steelers in their opener.

But now the Rams are .500 heading into next Monday night’s game against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati. It’s the first game between the teams since the Rams defeated the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.

The Rams will then travel to Indianapolis to close the first quarter of the season against the Colts.

The question is where the Rams might stand when star receiver Cooper Kupp returns from injured reserve, presumably against the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 8 at SoFi Stadium.

The good news for the Rams: They show no obvious signs of falling apart.

Stafford, who passed for 334 yards against the Seahawks, looked sharp for much of the game against the 49ers. He completed 34 of 55 passes for 307 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions. The offensive line, which gave up no sacks against the Seahawks, gave up only one Sunday.

Williams, a second-year pro, rushed for 52 yards and a touchdown in 14 carries. He caught six passes for 48 yards and a touchdown.

Rookie receiver Puka Nacua caught 15 passes for 147 yards, becoming the first player in NFL history to amass more than 100 yards receiving in each of his first two games.

And the defense kept the 49ers multitude of play-makers mostly in check.

Brock Purdy, the second-year 49ers quarterback, remained unbeaten during the regular season, completing 17 of 25 passes for 206 yards. Purdy also rushed for a touchdown.

Running back Christian McCaffrey rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown in 20 carries. Deebo Samuel also rushed for a touchdown.

Akers’ absence Sunday was the latest turn in a saga that dates to last season.

Akers, a fourth-year pro, was exiled by McVay for part of last season because of apparent disagreements about Akers’ role. The Rams attempted to trade Akers but returned to the team and finished strong, eclipsing more than 100 yards rushing in each of the last three games.

Akers started last Sunday’s opener against the Seattle Seahawks, but gained only 27 yards and scored a touchdown in 22 carries in the 30-13 victory.

Akers is due to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season but it remains to be seen whether he still will be with the Rams at that point.

The score was tied, 17-17, at halftime, and the teams traded possessions at the start of the second half — McVay opting to punt rather than go for it on a fourth-and-two at the 49ers 49-yard line — before the Rams offense suffered its first turnover this season.

On second down at the 49ers’ 31-yard line, Stafford’s pass bounced off Williams’ hands and into the arms of 49ers cornerback Isaiah Oliver.

After Purdy overthrew a pass to an open Samuel, Jake Moody kicked a 57-yard field goal for a 20-17 lead with 1:21 left in the third quarter.

Fred Warner sacked Stafford at the 15-yard line, forcing the Rams to give the ball back to the 49ers.

Ethan Evans’ 72-yard kick handicapped the 49ers, forcing them to start from their 26. Still, Samuel’s 11-yard touchdown run extended the lead.

Brett Maher’s 48-yard field goal midway through the third quarter pulled the Rams to within 27-20.

Jake Moody kicked a late field goal, and Maher’s field goal as time expired reduced the final margin.

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