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Back home in St. Louis for Christmas, I had the opportunity to see the 49ers pull out their third win of the year over the Rams in person yesterday. The game was unique in several ways. For one, it was played in front of a stadium that was half empty, allowing me to snag some of the best seats I've ever had at a football game. For another, I, like so many 49er fans, had adopted a more pragmatic goal for the end of this season; it's safe to say visions of a blazingly quick running back from USC were dancing in my head. And while this vision of a future laden with chants of "Reggie" was shattered, nevertheless, I left the game with a positive feeling, as Mike Nolan showed once again why he was hired to turn this team around.
So let's get the ugly part out of the way first. Yes, I am mourning for Reggie. No, I couldn't actively bring myself to cheer for the Rams. Yes, I was slightly disappointed when Ben Emanuel came down with the game clinching interception. It was strange to see many of the other 49er fans in attendance struggling with the same paradox that had me baffled. No matter what the situation, I've found it impossible to actually hope that the Rams win any game. But more on that later—for right now, let's just say that I love my Niners, particularly when they play the Rams. Still, my mind told me that Reggie Bush would have a bigger impact for the Boys-by-the-Bay than any momentum or confidence gained from a late season win by one hapless team over another. So, I was a little bit conflicted about this game. As time has gone on though, it's mostly the positives that stuck with me, and already I'm able to think of a Reggieless future without shuddering.
And now, on to the specifics (i.e. ramblings). I saw some good things at the game, and I saw some not so good things. I'm sure how many of them were shown on television or spoken of on the radio, so forgive me if I rehash old news. But hey—you know it sounds better coming from me anyway.
Beasley—Fred looks done in San Francisco. He didn't get on the field much (if at all), but that's not really what stood out to me. What I noticed was the distance he put between himself and the rest of the players and coaches on the 49ers' sideline. If there was any dialogue between he and Bishop Harris, it must have been awfully quick, because I tried to keep my eye on him in between plays. Just going by body-language, it's tough to envision a situation where Beasley returns next year.
Nolan's Rage—On the drive that eventually produced Shawntae Spencer's interception in the endzone, an encroachment penalty was called on LB Corey Smith. Smith thought he saw motion from a Ram, and jumped over the line. Rather than quickly jumping back when the ball wasn't snapped, he began jumping and pointing, waving to the official that he felt he deserved a flag. When the ball was snapped a few seconds later, and no flag had yet been thrown, the call on Smith was obvious. And Nolan was not happy about it. He had some wild gestures of his own that he threw at Smith on the sidelines, and suffice to say I don't think we'll see that mistake again anytime soon.
Andre Carter—The ex-Cal star had a big game, recording one sack on Rams QB Jamie Martin and consistently applying pressure on the St. Louis signal-caller. Personally, of all the team's free agents this offseason, the one I'd most like to see return is Andre.
A Tale of Two Tackles—Anthony Adams sure is fun to watch. The little bowling ball of energy continues to get things done at a high level despite his lack of the traditional height and bulk possessed by nose tackles. In between plays, that enthusiasm is even more visible, no matter the situation. Contrast that with his ex-Penn State teammate, Jimmy Kennedy, a highly drafted defensive tackle for the Rams. Kennedy, has been widely singled out for underachieving and not giving his full effort on the field. Considering his raw tools (6-2, 320), the contrast between Adams and Kennedy is obvious and striking. One with all the God-given traits an NFL lineman could hope for, the other making do with what he's got by means of raw determination and enthusiasm. Let's just say I'm glad Adams is the one on our team.
Progress along the O-Line—This may come as a shock to some 49er fans, but after completely dominating a bad defense, could it be that the offensive line has risen from horrible to mediocre? The young guys got it done today, as San Francisco averaged 7.5 yards-per-carry, and Smith received good protection for most of the game. Justin Smiley seemed to shine particularly brightly, as he was frequently congratulated by teammates on the bench, most noticeably after the opening 73 yard touchdown run by Maurice Hicks.
Alexander the Great—The kid didn't look half-bad today. While he didn't have that many completions, he didn't need to either. The ground game started rolling early, and that seemed to take a lot of pressure off of the rookie QB, who seemed much more at ease in the pocket and in his progressions, firing accurate strikes to check-down receivers when necessary. A healthier corps of wideouts didn't hurt either, as Arnaz Battle and Brandon Lloyd both played roles in the win.
And finally—Why do I hate the Rams so much, you ask? Here's a good example. Driving home after the game, I tuned in to the radio post-game show on the local St. Louis stations, and consistently heard that the Rams loss was really only so disappointing because the 49ers are so bad. Now, I won't debate the latter point here, because I acknowledge that there's a lot of work to be done in San Francisco. But don't you think that a 5-11 team should be willing to acknowledge that they, too, are less than stellar? The way the Ram's radio guys talked, you'd think the 49ers got lucky upsetting a Super Bowl caliber opponent, when the records indicate that they beat only a slightly superior team. Then again I guess the first stage of dealing with loss is denial, so maybe Rams fans are on their way.