(SportsNetwork.com) – Consecutive wins have satiated the Jim Harbaugh
detractors for the time being.
The embattled Harbaugh and his San Francisco 49ers will try to keep them at
bay for a third straight time when they visit the struggling St. Louis Rams on
“Monday Night Football.”
A 1-2 start had many projecting a Harbaugh-less future for San Francisco until
consecutive 100-yard rushing games by veteran Frank Gore resulted in wins over
Philadelphia and Kansas City.
Gore amassed 107 yards in a Week 5 win over Kansas City, while Phil Dawson
made five field goals as the 49ers spoiled Alex Smith’s return to Northern
California with a 22-17 victory.
Trailing by five, Smith and the Chiefs had a chance to win it, starting from
their own 20 with 2:12 remaining. Niners cornerback Perrish Cox had other
ideas, however, picking off the 2005 No. 1 overall pick to seal things.
Smith, of course, was San Francisco’s starting quarterback until he suffered a
concussion in a game against St. Louis in Week 10 of the 2012 season. Colin
Kaepernick took over from there and never gave the job back as Smith was
eventually traded to Kansas City the following offseason.
Kaepernick completed 14-of-26 passes for 201 yards and one touchdown against
the Chiefs, the 12th straight game that the Nevada product has recorded at
least one touchdown pass.
Harbaugh, who has led the 49ers to three straight NFC Championship Game
appearances, then addressed the rumors of discontent surrounding his
relationship with his players as well as general manager Trent Baalke.
“It’s my job to love them, those players, those coaches, everybody in our
organization,” said Harbaugh. “It’s their job to love each other. They don’t
need to respond in any other way in their job. The football team has done
good, and the better you do, the more you do, the more people try to trip you
49ers CEO Jed York then took to Twitter in an attempt to diffuse any potential
controversy and support his coach, who has a 44-16-1 record (including the
“Jim is my coach,” York wrote. “We are trying to win a SB (Super Bowl), not a
personality or popularity contest. Any more questions?”
There shouldn’t be.
Harbaugh has never won less than 11 games in a season with the 49ers, a
franchise that didn’t win more than eight in the eight years before he arrived
to turn the team around.
“Everybody in the organization is doing their job,” the often-surly Harbaugh
said. “Everybody is working hard at the craft of helping us be the best we can
possibly be as a football team, and that’s all you can ask of anybody. They’re
doing their best, and nobody appreciates that like I do.”
The Rams have lost three of four to start the season, including a Week 5
setback in Philadelphia in which they nearly came all the way back from a 27-
point deficit before ultimately losing 34-28.
For the Rams, while it obviously didn’t end the way quarterback Austin Davis
would have liked, it was clear that the former afterthought moved another step
closer to earning his bones as a legitimate NFL signal caller.
Davis clearly outplayed Nick Foles and nearly brought the Rams all the way
back before consecutive drops by Austin Pettis in the final minute doomed what
would have been one of the great comebacks in history.
The undrafted Southern Mississippi product completed 29-of-49 passes for 375
yards and three touchdowns as he led a Rams offense which outgained the
Eagles’ high-powered outfit 466-352.
“I take my hat off to that guy to tell you the truth,” Rams receiver Kenny
Britt said when discussing his young QB. “Coming in as a young guy, stepping
up each and every day and growing every time in the huddle, you can see his
confidence go up. I can tell we will have a good year with him.”
Davis and Co. were ultimately undone by three turnovers and another big play
by Philadelphia’s special teams unit, a blocked punt that was brought back for
a TD in the first quarter.
“We just showed that week in and week out we constantly shoot ourselves in the
foot,” Rams star defensive end Robert Quinn said. “We have to eliminate those
(mistakes) if we want to start putting Ws on the board. We do play hard.”
The 49ers lead the all-time series with their old divisional foes by the
slimmest of margins, 63-62-3.
On Monday nights. however, San Francisco has been the far more successful
team, compiling a 45-25 mark. St. Louis, on the other hand, is only 26-30 on
the nationally televised showcase.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Now that’s he’s actually gotten a chance on the field, Davis has performed
admirably in his first three starts, compiling passer ratings of 99.1 in Tampa
and 98.0 against Dallas before trumping that against the Eagles by cracking
the century mark at 103.7.
Granted that’s a small sample size but Sam Bradford only matched those kinds
of numbers 10 times is his 49 starts with the Rams.
“For me mentally, the biggest thing is just to keep the same approach and keep
going at it the way we’re doing it,” Davis said.
Davis wasn’t perfect by any means against Philadelphia, especially early when
he looked skittish in the pocket, lacked accuracy and failed to keep his eyes
downfield when pressured. As he settled down, though, he continued to make
plays and gave the Eagles all they could handle.
“He was calm and collected and just so focused on what he needed to do,” Rams
coach Jeff Fisher said. “He was not flustered at all. He took some hits and we
have to get that corrected but he can overcome. He knows the position is
difficult to play and he can overcome a mistake. I think that’s the mark of a
fine young quarterback.”
He’ll be facing a much tougher defense against the 49ers, one that is second
in the NFL, allowing just 282.8 yards per game despite the absences of star
linebackers NaVorro Bowman (injury) and Aldon Smith (suspension). San
Francisco also tends to take it away with a plus-five turnover ration, good
for second in the conference.
That’s a daunting task for any young quarterback, never mind one with as
little experience as Davis.
“I think we’re a good football team,” said Davis. “The record is what it is,
but we’re a couple plays here and there from being where we want to be. We’ve
got to stay the course. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Offensively the 49ers are at their best when Gore and the running game is
San Fran is third in the NFL with 145.0 rushing yards a game and a strong
ground game gives Kaepernick easier reads, a key component in any week because
the third-year signal caller still struggles with his progressions at times
and is at his best when Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman cut the
field in half for him and give him two options from high to low.
Conversely the Rams defense has struggled mightily against the run,
surrendering 152.5 YPG, 29th in a 32-team league.
Davis has been much better than anyone expected but this shapes up as a tough
spot for him and the Rams. The 49ers have won six consecutive Monday-night
games, outscoring opponents 164-49 in those efforts. Meanwhile, Kaepernick has
never hasn’t lost a Monday start, compiling a 3-0 record and 126.8 passer
rating with the extra day to prepare.
Sports Network predicted outcome: 49ers 27, Rams 17