Week 16 on Saturday night was going to be a crucial bout for both the San Francisco 49ers and the visiting 8-6 Los Angeles Rams. For Los Angeles, a win over the Niners would keep its barely alive playoff hopes intact for a little while longer. San Francisco, meanwhile, needed to win in order to ensure a chance at the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Pretty good context for an NFC West rivalry game, although Los Angeles had the majority of first-half laughs.

The Rams opened up on offense, working their way into 49ers territory, particularly after 20-plus yard pickups to wide receiver Josh Reynolds and tight end Tyler Higbee to get within the red zone. Quarterback Jared Goff was able to then find wide receiver Brandin Cooks for a 10-yard touchdown to put Los Angeles up 7-0 early.

But San Francisco answered right back, thanks to an 81-yard kickoff return by wide receiver Richie James:

Yet the Niners couldn't find red-zone pay dirt, settling for a 26-yard field goal by kicker Robbie Gould to make it 7-3. And then the 49ers defense forced a Rams 3-and-out, which was returned in favor by Los Angeles. Center Ben Garland, who is now the de facto starter in place of the injured Weston Richburg, struggled both with snaps and pass protection early.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tossed an ill-advised interception towards the end of the first quarter, picked off by Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The Rams then used that turnover to work back into the red zone, where running back Todd Gurley managed an outside-run 5-yard touchdown to put L.A. up 14-3.

The 49ers managed to find some offensive rhythm the following drive, however, which saw some big pickups off screen plays to wide receiver Deebo Samuel and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Samuel then scored a 19-yard touchdown on a sweep to cut the Rams lead down to 14-10 with just over 12 minutes remaining in the first half:

A 27-yard kickoff return put the Rams back into Niners territory, though. And while EDGE NIck Bosa looked as if he forced a fumble by Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp's hands, forward progress ruled Kupp down, and Los Angeles would punch it in with Gurley a couple of plays later to get their lead back up to 11 points.

Needing to chew up some clock, the 49ers engineered their own lengthy drive late in the second quarter, spanning nine plays for 75 yards and culminating in a 16-yard touchdown run by running back Raheem Mostert, who picked up some excellent blocks along the way:

That made it 21-17 in favor of the Rams, who still had over two minutes remaining and one timeout. Goff attempted to hit running back Malcolm Brown near the flat, but linebacker Fred Warner read the play perfectly and intercepted the pass, returning it 46 yards for a touchdown and San Francisco's first lead of the night.

Considering how porous the 49ers defense had been up to that point, Warner's play was about as big as it could get. It also marked the team's first interception since fellow linebacker Dre Greenlaw picked off Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson back in early November.

The Niners also will start off the third quarter on offense, hopefully retaining the momentum from the turnover and score.
  • Peter Panacy
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    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.