“In my head, it was just, ‘I have to get in. I have to get in for this team. We need this win. I have to get in.’ ”
Colin Kaepernick did. His two-point conversion run with 31 seconds left Saturday capped a 15-point comeback as the 49ers ended a 13-game losing streak with a 22-21 win over the Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers (2-13) hadn’t won since Week 1 against the Rams.
San Francisco avoided the possibility of finishing the season with the worst record in franchise history, had its best defensive effort since Week 1 and finally gave CEO Jed York and the team’s brass a reason to retain coach Chip Kelly.
On the other hand, a win by the Cleveland Browns earlier in the day positioned the 49ers for the No. 1 pick in the draft. But they remained in line for the No. 2 slot.
Saturday’s game began the way so many have for the 49ers this season – with an early lead that evaporated. At one point, seven consecutive San Francisco drives ended with punts, a streak broken when Carlos Hyde fumbled after a frightening hit to his left knee.
The Rams converted that turnover into a touchdown and a 21-7 lead, and it appeared the 49ers were doomed again.
On their sideline, however, the 49ers’ lone active veteran offensive lineman rallied his teammates. Zane Beadles, who started at center for the first time, was surrounded by young players against one of the league’s best defensive lines. He gathered them before the offense went on the field.
Kaepernick overheard the speech.
“ ‘Forget everything that’s happened up until this point and go out and play football the way we know how,’ ” Kaepernick said of Beadles’ message. “ ‘Let’s go out and get this win.’ And I think they responded very well to that.”
Kaepernick connected on 8 of 12 passes on the ensuing drive and finished it with a 13-yard touchdown run. When the defense forced the Rams into a three-and-out, the 49ers regained possession with 3:10 to play trailing by seven.
With wide receivers Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton and tight end Vance McDonald on injured reserve, Kaepernick had to find new targets. He located one in wide receiver Rod Streater, who had game highs of six catches for 63 yards.
Streater’s last reception was his biggest – a 10-yard slant for a touchdown that cut the 49ers’ deficit to 21-20.
“Big, strong receiver,” Kaepernick said of Streater. “Contestable catches – he does a good job with them, which he did on that last play to get us into the end zone.”
Everyone then wondered what Kelly would do – go for the point-after attempt to tie the score and force overtime or go for the win on the road.
Kelly, who earned his reputation as a college coach unafraid of fourth-down tries and razzle-dazzle plays, said he decided minutes earlier if the 49ers scored with fewer than 45 seconds left, he’d go for two.
The 49ers practiced their two-point conversion throughout last week. On the play, Streater streaks across Kaepernick’s vision from the left with two more targets in the back right of the end zone for insurance.
San Francisco figured Streater would be open. But Los Angeles jumped the route and Kaepernick, with no one open, began drifting toward the end zone until he reached a point of no return.
“I saw it in his eyes,” Streater said. “He wanted to go for it.”
The conversion triggered a celebration on the 49ers sideline not seen since their playoff runs from 2011-13. Of course, it’s not every day a team snaps a 13-game losing streak.
“We went crazy,” cornerback Tramaine Brock said.
“It felt amazing,” Kaepernick said.
Said Beadles, who supplied the leadership the team has been seeking all season: “I know what we’re capable of. And we hadn’t played up to that at that point in the game. And it was time to do it, then or never.”