Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Punishing opening drive put 49ers on course for domination against Rams

Nov 16, 2021 at 5:59 AM--

Sometimes in football a team punches another in the mouth right off the bat, only to see the other team rebound and take control of the game. Other times, that early haymaker sets the tone for a dominant performance to come.

Monday night's 31-10 win over the Los Angeles Rams was an example of the latter for the San Francisco 49ers.

The Rams opened the game with possession but quickly gave the ball to the 49ers when safety Jimmie Ward intercepted a pass from Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford on the fourth play of the drive. After that, the 49ers put together what was pretty much a perfect drive -- 18 plays, 93 yards, over 11 minutes of possession, a perfect four-of-four on third downs, and a touchdown reception from tight end George Kittle to take an early 7-0 lead.

The drive quickly put the 49ers in a position to do what they had hoped to do against the Rams, which was to take and hold control of the game by running the ball over 40 times.

"It got us into a rhythm for sure," 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo told reporters after the game. "I mean 18 plays, I think it was, that's the way we want to do it. I don't know how many runs we had on that, but just running the ball, converting on third downs and scoring at the end.

"I don't want to say it took their soul away, but it definitely did something."

40 carries was a lofty goal for the 49ers, but it quickly became apparent it would be an attainable one after the opening drive. The defense wound up doing their part the rest of the way, while the offense carried over their early success through the rest of the game.

"When we had that many on the first drive I was like, 'alright we got a chance now let's keep doing this. We'll see how the other side goes.' And the other side did very well, especially when they got the turnovers, but everybody seemed amped up and ready to go," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "When you have that long drive, I don't know how many third downs we had on it, but converting those allowed us to just stay with it."

The drive helped set the tone for the defense as well, giving them almost an entire quarter to sit on the sidelines while the Rams' defense was getting worn out early and often.

"It is exactly what you want to see," defensive end Nick Bosa said. "That tires their defense out and gives us a breather. It is as good of a start as you can ask for."

An 18-play possession wasn't the easiest thing on the offense, but it proved to be a harbinger of things to come as they went on to put up an 11-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that took almost eight minutes off the clock in the second quarter.

"It leaves a mark on us, too," offensive tackle Trent Williams said. "It is pretty tough to go out there and play 18 plays straight, especially when majority of them are running plays. If you want to establish any type of dominance, especially in the trenches, I think it is necessary. You got to run the ball. You got to make your opponents respect that."

In the end, the 49ers finished with 44 carries for 156 yards with an overall time of possession advantage of 39:03 to 20:57. The performance proved to be a blueprint for how the 49ers want to win week in and week out.

"When the defense is playing that way and when we're doing well on third down, it makes it a lot easier," Shanahan said. "You can try for that to be your plan, but if we don't convert those third downs, no one will ever see that. Then eventually, you get behind and you got to abandon that. We don't always make the goal to have over 40 runs, but we do always make the goal to try to be balanced. A lot of stuff goes into that and you've have to be good on third down, you have to be good on the other side and you have to have 11 guys really getting after trying to run the ball well."

And it also delivered a much-needed win for a team that had lost five of their last six games and hadn't won a game in front of their home fans at Levi's Stadium since October of 2020. Time will tell if Monday night's game truly proves to be the turning point the 49ers needed to put together a winning season, but for at least one night, everything seemed to be back to the way it was in 2019 when the 49ers pounded their way to a spot in the Super Bowl.

"We knew it was a huge game coming," Garoppolo said. "It had been a long time coming winning a home game. We wanted to do it for the fans. We wanted to win a game, we needed to win a game in the division against a great team. Yeah, I think we just came out and fought and it showed."

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