SANTA CLARA -- – The Rams appeared lifeless after a 35-11 loss to the 49ers in Week 4, but they’ve since gotten a jolt of Tavon Austin.
St. Louis drafted the receiver eighth overall in April because of his electric speed and ability to score from anywhere on the field. He’s done just that.
Austin caught touchdown passes of 81 and 57 yards in a Nov. 10 road win over the Colts, who were 6-2. Last week against the Bears, he took a pitch, spun around and raced 65 yards for a touchdown.
Against Indianapolis, Austin also fielded a punt, following a bounce, at the 2-yard line and returned it up the sideline for the team’s longest touchdown play of the season. Earlier this week, he was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month.
“His supporting cast has a great deal of confidence in him, and they like working for him,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “... If he could, he’d play every position on the team.”
Austin isn’t the only reason the Rams are 4-3 since losing to the 49ers. St. Louis had just 18 yards in that loss, but the rushing game has bounced back.
The Rams have averaged 151.9 yards a game on the ground since, second-best in the NFL over that span. They’ve also found a workhorse running back, Zac Stacy, who is averaging 20 carries a game since the loss to the 49ers.
Stacy, who suffered a concussion Sunday against the Bears, practiced this week and is listed as probable on St. Louis’ injury report.
Austin, at 5-foot-8 and 176 pounds, has been the perfect complement.
An All-American at West Virginia, he visited Santa Clara before the draft and figured there was a chance the 49ers would move up to get him.
“I believed so – just based on the type of players they had,” Austin said during a conference call. “I’m similar to them. So I definitely think they probably could’ve used me over there.”
Austin’s draft stock grew too hot for the 49ers, who originally had the 31st pick. Now they must face him twice a year.
Austin caught just two passes for 6 yards in the Sept. 26 game, but 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Austin isn’t the same player he was in September.
“He’s gotten better and better as the season has gone on, as most rookies do,” Fangio said. “And they’re using him more and they have him in some specified roles, and he’s made a bunch of big plays for them. He’s a real threat.”
Brown better – Cornerback Tarell Brown, who spent a night in a New Orleans hospital after suffering a rib injury Nov. 17, said he is making progress but is unlikely to play Sunday against the Rams. He said a Saints lineman hit him in the side at the end of a running play in the second quarter.
Asked if he had suffered bruised ribs, Brown said it was “more than bruised ribs” and that the injury included what he called internal injuries.
He said he had a hard time taking deep breaths and only resumed running Thursday. But he also said he’s making steady progress and was in far less pain than he was when he returned to the Bay Area accompanied by a team doctor.
“It was painful,” he said. “Worst flight ever.”
Tramaine Brock will make his second straight start at right cornerback in Brown’s absence.
Questionable injuries – Brown, guard Mike Iupati (knee), defensive end Ray McDonald (ankle) and tight end Garrett Celek (hamstring) are listed as questionable. None of them practiced during the week, and they are not expected to play Sunday.
Read Matthew Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320.