SANTA CLARA — The Rams couldn’t lose this one. Not against a division rival. Not after last week. Not with the schedule about to get tougher. Not in a stadium that features the name “McVay” in tribute.
So the Rams survived a near-disaster, a collapse that would have overshadowed the amazing improvement they’ve made on offense. Errors on defense and special teams put the Rams in a precarious spot, but they held on for a 41-39 victory over San Francisco on Thursday night at Levi’s Stadium.
The Rams had the ball, and a 15-point lead, in the middle of the fourth quarter. Then the 49ers scored, recovered a kickoff fumble and scored again, but their two-point conversion attempt was deflected and intercepted, which kept the Rams ahead by two points.
Over? No, it’s never that easy, even for the Rams. The 49ers recovered the onside kick with two minutes left and the Rams needed a fourth-down sack by Aaron Donald to finally clinch the victory. It was, if nothing else, improvement over last Sunday, when Washington scored late in the fourth quarter to beat the Rams.
“I’m really pleased with the way our team stuck together,” said Sean McVay, who earned his first road win as an NFL coach against the team that his grandfather, John, famously served as an executive. “We can certainly clean some things up, but we will take the win.”
Going forward, serious questions must be asked about the Rams’ defense, which was expected to be improved this season. Instead, the 49ers, who failed to score a touchdown in their first two games this season, moved the ball with ease. Quarterback Brian Hoyer, passed for 332 yards.
That’s scary stuff for the Rams, but amazingly, their offense made up for miscues in other areas, which must be bizarre to anyone who watched the team last season.
Quarterback Jared Goff looked like a master and running back Todd Gurley continued his early-season resurgence with a three-touchdown game. Every time the Rams’ defense folded and allowed a touchdown against the 49ers’ anemic offense, the Rams’ offense responded.
What type of crazy world is this? The Rams, winning a shootout?
McVay is only 31 years old, but he has the Rams’ offense moving at rates not seen since McVay cruised the halls in high school. The Rams call creative plays, they execute them and they move the ball down the field on long touchdown drives. It’s astonishing from a team that scored the fewest points in the NFL last season.
The Rams have scored 107 points in three games, second-most in franchise history to the 119 they scored in the first three games in 2000. The Rams now have multiple 40-point games in a season for the first time since 2006, and it’s still September.
Goff completed 22 of 28 attempts for 292 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Gurley finished with 113 yards on 28 carries for his first 100-yard game since his rookie season of 2015. Gurley ran for two touchdowns and also caught one.
For a while, it looked like it might be an easy night for the Rams. Nickell Robey-Coleman had an interception on the game’s first play and Gurley scored a touchdown on the second play.
Gurley’s third touchdown of the half gave the Rams a 24-13 halftime lead, and they pushed to leads of 27-13, 34-20 and 41-26 in the second half, but still had to hold on because the 49ers gained 421 yards and converted 9 of 18 third-down attempts.
McVay didn’t have an immediate postgame update on the Rams’ injured players. Watkins and receiver Tavon Austin left the game with concussions, safety Lamarcus Joyner left with a hamstring injury in the second quarter and center John Sullivan left with a groin injury in the third quarter.