The 49ers’ Carlos Hyde, seeking his first 1,000-yard rushing season, left in the fourth quarter Saturday against the Los Angeles Rams after taking a shot to his left knee.
The injury occurred on a slow-developing out-pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick to Hyde, who turned up field just as Rams cornerback E.J. Gaines was closing in from the secondary. Gaines’ helmet went into Hyde’s knee.
Hyde fell, then popped up and began hopping in obvious pain near the 49ers’ sideline. Teammates came off the bench and had him lie down so trainers could tend to him.
After initially ruling the play an incompletion, officials reviewed it and determined Hyde fumbled. Los Angeles took over at the San Francisco 25-yard line and scored four plays later on Jared Goff’s 2-yard pass to tight end Tyler Higbee.
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During the drive, Hyde walked with a slight limp into the locker room with team doctors trailing him. He will have an MRI in the Bay Area that will provide an exact diagnosis, but there was a sense among the 49ers the injury wasn’t long term.
Hyde averaged 5.5 yards a carry in the previous six games and scored the game’s first touchdown Saturday on a 19-yard catch-and-run from Kaepernick. He finished with 38 rushing yards, giving him 988 this season.
Most 49ers seemed to think Gaines’ hit was legal.
“Carlos is a big running back,” wide receiver Rod Streater said. “And (Gaines) had to go low, I guess.”
Safety Antoine Bethea noted league rules prohibit and fine defensive players for high hits.
“That’s what the NFL has forced the DBs to do,” Bethea said of low hits. “I’ve heard offensive players tell me, ‘I hope you hit me up high rather than my legs.’ But those offensive guys aren’t paying our fines. I think it was a clean play. It’s unfortunate Carlos had to come out.”
O-line shuffle – The 49ers started two rookies on the right side of their offensive line, then inserted a third for a few plays in the second quarter.
John Theus, a fifth-round pick, started at right tackle with Joshua Garnett, a first-rounder, at right guard. When Garnett left before halftime because of a finger injury, undrafted rookie Alex Balducci stepped in at guard. Garnett returned to the contest.
The backups were pressed into service because of left tackle Joe Staley’s hamstring injury and center Marcus Martin’s sprained ankle. Both warmed up Saturday but were ruled inactive 1 1/2 hours before kickoff.
The 49ers began last week’s game at Atlanta with Zane Beadles at left tackle. Martin’s injury in that game, however, forced Beadles to play center, which he did Saturday. Trent Brown played left tackle for the first time.
New guys – With the 49ers short two wide receivers, DeAndre Smelter made his NFL debut in the first quarter. Smelter sat out his rookie season in 2015 while recovering from a torn ACL, and a hamstring injury slowed him last offseason.
The 49ers promoted Smelter from the practice squad in the run-up to the game after Quinton Patton was placed on injured reserve because of a broken foot. Fellow starter Torrey Smith went on injured reserve Friday after suffering a concussion Dec. 11. Smith did not travel to Los Angeles.
Smelter played a handful of snaps and wasn’t targeted in the passing game.
A few fellow newcomers, including tight end Jim Dray, linebacker Carl Bradford and offensive lineman Andrew Gardner, also played. Bradford played one snap after Gerald Hodges was hurt early in the fourth quarter.
’17 opponents – Based on their last-place finish in the NFC West, the 49ers next season will host Dallas, the New York Giants, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Arizona, Los Angeles, Seattle and the last-place NFC South team, either New Orleans or Carolina. They will visit Philadelphia, Washington, Houston, Indianapolis, Chicago, Arizona, Los Angeles and Seattle.
Et cetera – Defensive lineman Tank Carradine was a healthy scratch for the second time in the last three games. Carradine, who signed a one-year contract extension in September, has not recorded a sack this season.
▪ Hodges was back in the starting lineup at inside linebacker after sitting out the Atlanta game for violating team rules. The 49ers have not revealed what happened, only that it occurred in Atlanta. He had a game-high 13 tackles.
▪ Former 49ers coach Mike Singletary, a defensive adviser for the Rams, was on their sideline Saturday.