Down 10-21 in the first half, it certainly didn't go down like the 49ers' first outing in NFL Week 5 against the Rams—but they found a way to win. With less than a minute of play, key catches by 49ers receivers Kendrick Bourne and Emmanuel Sanders made all the difference, as they set the team up for a narrow 34-31 victory. Does Jimmy Garoppolo have the clutch gene? Garoppolo converted on two 3rd-and-16 situations on the final drive of the game.


Here are your Week 16 Studs and Duds of the game. With a victory at home along with a Seahawks' loss to the Cardinals, the 49ers are back atop the NFC West division. Despite Sunday's win, the narrative hasn't changed for the season finale. The 49ers go on the road to play the Seahawks next Sunday Night; win that game and the 49ers clinch both the division and top seed in the National Football Conference.


Studs


Fred Warner


What more can I say? The 49ers second-year linebacker earned an elite rating via Pro Football Focus grade with a 91.5 overall grade and a 90.3 coverage grade, including the game's defensive play of the game.

Down 21-17, Warner jumps the flat route intended for Rams running back Malcolm Brown and picks off Jared Goff for his first-career pick-six. Warner's defensive touchdown gave the 49ers their first lead of the game and completely changed the momentum of the game.


Special Teams


In a narrow 34-31 victory, the devil is in the details. A shout out deservedly goes to the entire special teams' unit for excelling in all facets of the game.

The Rams got off to a strong start with an impressive seven-play touchdown drive for 66 yards to open the game. 49ers receiver Richie James Jr. delivered his best run of the season as he ran for 81 yards to the Rams' 18-yard line on the ensuing kickoff return. While the 49ers couldn't finish off the drive with a touchdown, James' kickoff return was extremely important when you consider the final score.


49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky, a surprise fourth-round draft pick, continues to perform at a high level. Out of his five punts, four of them landed within the 49ers' 20-yard line at a 43.8 yard average per punt.



Lastly, 49ers kicker Robbie Gould delivered his second game-winning field goal in the last three games. Gould has been dealing with injuries all season but with him finally healthy, the 49ers should be set at their kicker position as they head into January football.


Deebo Samuel


While I know Sanders hauled in Garoppolo's 46-yard pass to set up the team for the go-ahead field goal, Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey had a strong game defending the 49ers' wideout albeit that play on busted coverage.


Instead, I have a greater appreciation for the second-round rookie Deebo Samuel as Kyle Shanahan clearly wants to find more ways to get him involved. Samuel finished the game with 59 all-purpose yards with 28 rushing yards and 31 receiving yards. Out of his 28 rushing yards, 19 came from an end-around play for the 49ers' first touchdown of the game. Samuel can make defenders miss tackles in multiple ways as he continues to deliver in prime time games.

Duds


Ahkello Witherspoon


49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was picked on by the Rams early and often for his worst game of the season. He allowed receiving touchdowns to Rams receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp along with a long reception to Robert Woods. All in all, Witherspoon gave up three catches for 58 yards; he also seemed to stray away from tackling in the run game.


Would Emmanuel Moseley have done any better in this matchup? Shanahan remains confident in Witherspoon and believes that he'll bounce back.

Interior Offensive Line


Losing 49ers' starting center Weston Richburg for the season undoubtedly hurts the team and while Ben Garland has done an admirable job replacing him, it's put the offense in a bind. Garland filled in at center while Daniel Brunskill started for Mike Person (neck) at guard in this game. Garoppolo was sacked six times, with Aaron Donald and Dante Fowler accounting for four of them.

Pass Rush


The Rams' game plan to counter the 49ers' aggressiveness on defense was having Jared Goff on rollouts and bootlegs. For the most part—especially the first half—it worked out great for the Rams. Unlike their first matchup, Goff finished the game with an admirable 323 passing yards for an 85.7 QB rating.

49ers defensive linemen Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa eventually adjusted later in the game; Armstead had six pressures while Bosa now leads all rookies with 69 pressures for the season.


The problem? The 49ers registered zero sacks this game and now only have three sacks the last four games. Injuries and game flow obviously factor into the 49ers' lack of defensive stats but it is something to consider moving forward. The 49ers' depth along the defensive line has obviously taken a hit with injuries to Dee Ford, D.J. Jones, and Ronald Blair III. If the 49ers can secure the top seed in the NFC, they'll happily take it and hopefully get healthier on that side of the football.
  • Justin Wong
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    Justin Wong has been writing for the 49ers Webzone since 2017 while also running an NFC West blog and podcast called Just The West. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to @JustTheWest on Twitter.