by Aengus Moorehead
The 49ers took an eight-game winning streak and a chance at the NFC West title into last their Turkey Day meeting with the Baltimore Ravens, coached by Harbaugh's older brother John, and the Ravens used a relentless pass rush to win "Harbowl" by a 16-6 margin.
Quarterback Alex Smith was sacked nine times as San Francisco lost for the first time since an overtime setback to Dallas on Sept. 18.
Still, with just two losses in 11 games and a five-game lead on both Arizona and Seattle in the division, a trip to the playoffs seems almost certain for San Francisco. The Niners can do so as NFC West champs for the first time in nine years with a victory in this game or a pair of losses by both the Seahawks and Cardinals.
Even if the 49ers clinch the division this weekend, they still have plenty to play for, as four of their final five games are against division opponents. San Francisco holds the second-best record in the conference, one up on 8-3 New Orleans but two back of 11-0 Green Bay.
Harbaugh is poised to become the third rookie head coach in franchise history to win the NFC West in their first year, joining George Seifert (1989) and Steve Mariucci (1997). He gets his first shot against a Rams club that has lost two straight and sits last in the division with a 2-9 record.
St. Louis dropped home games to Seattle and Arizona after snapping a six-game road slide with a win at Cleveland on Nov. 13, losing 23-20 on a late field goal to the Cardinals this past weekend.
The field goal wasn't the only reason the Rams dropped the game, as they allowed Cards running back Beanie Wells to run for 228 yards.
St. Louis did get its first punt return for a touchdown since Dante Hall on Nov. 30, 2007 when Nick Miller took one 88 yards for a score in the first quarter and rallied from 20-10 deficit to tie the game, but couldn't finish off the Cardinals.
Arizona went ahead with 4:09 to play on Jay Feeley's 22-yard field goal and St. Louis had to punt on its resulting drive. That allowed the Cardinals to run out the clock after converting some big third downs.
These two clubs will also meet in St. Louis in the regular-season finale on Jan. 1.
The Rams have a slim 61-59-2 edge in their overall regular-season series with the 49ers and halted a string of five straight losses to their longtime division foe with a 25-17 win in St. Louis during Week 16 of last season, a result that triggered the dismissal of then San Francisco-head coach Mike Singletary immediately afterward. The Niners did record a 23-20 overtime victory over the Rams at Candlestick Park earlier in the 2010 campaign and have topped St. Louis at home in three straight years. St. Louis' last road triumph in this set was a 13-9 decision on Nov. 18, 2007.
The 49ers also bested the Rams in the lone playoff encounter between the clubs, a 30-3 verdict at Candlestick Park in the 1989 NFC Championship when the Rams where still based in Los Angeles.
Steve Spagnuolo is 1-3 against San Francisco during his two-plus seasons at the helm, while Harbaugh will be taking on both St. Louis and Spagnuolo for the first time as an NFL head coach.
Time & Venue:
- 4:15 PM ET, Sunday, December 4, 2011. Candlestick Park, San Francisco, California
NFL Football Odds: 49ers -14, O/U 38
- St. Louis at Seattle Seahawks, Monday, December 12
- San Francisco at Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, December 11
Among St. Louis’ myriad of issues, the inability to score and stop the run are right at the top. The Rams reached 20 points for only the second time this season in last week’s 23-20 home loss to Arizona. The league’s worst run defense was gashed for 228 yards by Beanie Wells – no fluke after having been torched for 253 yards by Dallas’ DeMarco Murray in October. QB Sam Bradford aggravated an ankle injury in last week’s loss and sat out practice Thursday.
San Francisco’s eight-game winning streak was snapped in a 16-6 loss at Baltimore last week. QB Alex Smith was sacked nine times by the Ravens. Expect the Niners to try and get the running game and Frank Gore untracked against the Rams. He was limited to 39 yards by Baltimore. WR Michael Crabtree has hauled in 13 receptions in the last two games. San Francisco has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 33 games, the longest active streak in the league.
With the 49ers not likely to give RB Steven Jackson much room to run, the pressure will be on Bradford and the St. Louis passing game. WR Brandon Lloyd has emerged as a true No. 1 receiver that the Rams have been lacking, and a return by fellow receiver Danario Alexander would give Bradford plenty of options that also include Brandon Gibson and rookie Austin Pettis as well as tight end Billy Bajema. San Francisco's secondary will have its work cut out for it.
Speaking of San Francisco's run defense, the Niners are the first time to not allow a rushing touchdown through their first 11 games. The 11-game run is also tied for the longest in the NFL since 1970 at any point in the season. Good luck, Jackson.
How the Niners respond to last week's disappointing loss will lend some clue as to how playoff-ready the team is. Harbaugh and his club can't look past the lowly Rams, as it still has a shot at one of the top two seeds in the conference that comes with a bye and some home-field advantage. San Francisco needs to jump out early and not give St. Louis any thoughts of playing spoiler.
The 49ers have won five of the last six meetings, but Bradford rallied the Rams to a 25-17 win at St. Louis in the last matchup – a game that cost coach Mike Singletary his job.
Gore needs 22 yards to become the leading rusher in franchise history (Joe Perry, 7,344).
San Francisco has not allowed a TD in the first half in each of the last five games, a franchise record. The Niners are also first team since 1928 Providence Steamrollers to not allow a rushing TD in the first 11 games.
San Francisco is 5-1 SU in its last 6 games when playing St. Louis
The total has gone UNDER in 7 of San Francisco's last 10 games when playing St. Louis
San Francisco is 7-0-1 ATS in its last 8 games at home
St. Louis is 4-9 ATS in its last 13 games when playing San Francisco
St. Louis is 3-7 ATS in its last 10 games when playing on the road against San Francisco
St. Louis is 1-6 ATS in its last 7 games on the road
The playoffs are all but guaranteed for the 49ers, and they look to make it official this weekend. On paper, San Francisco matches up with St. Louis very well. The Niners excel at running the ball and the Rams have had their troubles stopping opposing backs. San Francisco's offensive line will be looking for a bit of a bounce-back effort, however, and containing Long is a must. Still, San Francisco should have little trouble dispatching St. Louis and making Spagnuolo's seat a little hotter.
NFL Football Pick: Take 49ers.
alex smith - arizona cardinals - austin pettis - baltimore ravens - beanie wells - billy bajema - brandon gibson - brandon lloyd - candlestick park - danario alexander