SAN FRANCISCO Safety Dashon Goldson was wondering why everyone was walking off the field with the score still tied. Vernon Davis said it was as if no game had been played. Michael Crabtree said it had the feel of a scrimmage.
The 49ers on Sunday played five full quarters, became elated and deflated when both David Akers and the Rams' kicker missed in overtime and then settled for a 24-24 tie San Francisco's first since 1986 that felt a bit more like a loss inside a somber 49ers locker room.
Center Jonathan Goodwin described the game as "weird." For one, the 49ers don't often fall behind quickly, but they found themselves down two touchdowns in the first quarter to a Rams team that entered as a heavy underdog but played with more urgency and fire at the start.
It began on the Rams' first offensive possession, when rookie wide receiver Brian Quick knocked cornerback Chris Culliver to the ground and then was alone for a 36-yard touchdown, the first scoring play of 20 yards or more against the 49ers this season.
On the next St. Louis drive, running back Daryl Richardson broke off a 32-yard run, which was augmented by a 15-yard face-mask penalty.
Three plays later, Steven Jackson burst into the end zone from seven yards out.
The Rams, losers of three in a row entering the game, finished with 458 yards of offense, while the hard-charging Jackson, who required a host of 49ers to bring him to the ground all afternoon, had 101 rushing yards.
The game followed a pattern seen in early-season losses to the Vikings and Giants, games in which the 49ers seemed to be half asleep at the start, then fell too far behind to catch up.
To their credit, the 49ers woke up quicker this time. They won back the momentum with a 12-play drive in the second quarter in which Alex Smith connected three times with Michael Crabtree, including a 14-yard touchdown pass.
Before that pass, however, the 49ers decided to go for a first down on fourth and one from the St. Louis 48-yard line. Smith dived between the center and guard to gain a new set of downs but also came away with a concussion, his second in two years.
Smith left the game after the series and now must be cleared by an independent neurologist before returning to practice. Smith was diagnosed with a concussion after a Week 2 loss to the Cowboys last season but played the following week against Cincinnati.
With Smith in the locker room, Colin Kaepernick saw his most extensive action since the 49ers drafted him in the second round last year. He struggled early but found his rhythm in the second half as the 49ers came back and briefly pulled ahead.
Kaepernick scored on a vintage seven-yard run in which he outraced linebacker James Laurinaitis to the pilon to cut the 49ers' deficit to 17-14 with 8:40 remaining.
The 49ers immediately got the ball back when Tramaine Brock forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. On the next play, Kaepernick handed the ball to Frank Gore, who ran around the right side 20 yards to the end zone.
The 49ers appeared to be in the perfect spot, ahead by four with the league's No. 2 defense finally awake and aggressive by that point pitted against a Rams offense that had sputtered badly in its last outing.
But Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Co. couldn't keep the Rams out of the end zone, as quarterback Sam Bradford connected with Austin Pettis on a two-yard score at the end of a 14-play drive with 1:09 to play.
Kaepernick responded by quickly leading the 49ers down field he ran for 29 of his 66 rushing yards on the drive to set up Akers' 33-yard kick that sent the game to overtime.
Akers, however, missed wide left from 41 yards in the extra period while his counterpart, Greg Zuerlein, was wide right from 58 yards.
The tie means the 49ers have a one-game lead in the division on Seattle.
"I don't know exactly how it feels yet," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of the tie. "I've asked several people, some of our players. And I think they feel like I do: Don't know quite how to feel right now."