Explosive pass plays. Long, sustained drives. Tough running. Kyle Shanahan’s offense was as prolific as advertised Thursday.
Unfortunately for the coach and his 49ers, his one-time understudy, Rams coach Sean McVay, ran it just a bit better. Los Angeles gained 418 yards in its 41-39 victory as Jared Goff looked nothing like the neophyte quarterback the 49ers easily handled last year.
The former Cal star threw for 292 yards, three touchdowns and had a 145.8 passer rating against what seemed like a fatigued San Francisco defense.
Brian Hoyer, meanwhile, began the game with an interception when he tried to force the ball to a well-covered Marquise Goodwin, Hoyer’s third bad-throw interception in as many games. Los Angeles scored on the next play and the 49ers trailed 7-0 just 12 seconds into the game.
Shanahan said he never thought about turning to backup C.J. Beathard.
“I just told him, ‘Let’s start over,’” Shanahan said of his brief sideline exchange with Hoyer. “... We had to go back to work. We didn’t change anything. Went right on with the script.”
Hoyer followed his coach’s advice. The 49ers got their first touchdown of the season – a nine-yard run by the quarterback – on the next drive, and Hoyer began to look more at ease and more like his practice-field self the longer the game went on.
He finished with 332 passing yards, threw touchdown passes to Garrett Celek and Trent Taylor, and also struck twice on the type of deep passes that eluded him the first two weeks. Goodwin caught one for 50 yards while Pierre Garcon – who finished with 142 receiving yards on seven catches – had one in the fourth quarter for 59 yards.
That set up Hoyer’s three-yard score to Taylor that brought the 49ers within eight points of the Rams with slightly more than five minutes to play. When Los Angeles fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, the 49ers had a chance to tie the game in the final minutes.
A toe-dragging reception at the sideline by Goodwin put the ball at the 3-yard yard line and Carlos Hyde’s second, gritty, fourth-down touchdown of the game gave the 49ers a chance. But Hoyer’s two-point conversion attempt to Taylor was intercepted by the Rams.
The 49ers had one last opportunity when kicker Robbie Gould, who had missed what turned out to be a critical extra point earlier in the game, struck a perfect onside kick that was recovered by Raheem Mostert, who lost a first-quarter fumble.
The 49ers, however, ended up going backward when officials flagged Taylor for offensive pass interference and Hoyer was sacked – his fourth of the game – on his final snap. The pass-interference call was pivotal, a 21-yard swing, but neither Shanahan nor Hoyer said he saw what happened.
“In that time of the game I would think you would let people play,” Hoyer said. “But I haven’t seen it. I have to go and watch the film. You know what, you don’t want to leave it up to the refs hands anyways. You hope you make a few plays earlier in the game to change the outcome. If it comes down to that, then that’s what it is. That’s what the guy’s job is to do.”
Though the offense sprang back to life – their 39 points were the most they scored since Oct. 27, 2013; it was the 49ers’ most in a loss since 1965 – after looking dead in the 49ers’ first two games, they could not overcome a slow start and another barrage of mistakes.
In the second quarter, for instance, San Francisco got a break when the Rams flubbed a punt return and long snapper Kyle Nelson recovered at the Los Angeles 12.
But Joe Staley was called for a false start on first down and fullback Kyle Juszczyk flagged for holding on second down and the 49ers had to settle for a 36-yard Gould field goal.
On defense, meanwhile, the team seemed to feel the effects of having played 79 snaps just four days earlier in Seattle. The Rams converted eight of 12 third-down attempts and had three scoring drives of 10 plays or more. Goff wasn’t sacked, the second time in three games the 49ers defense has failed to sack the opposing quarterback.
McVay, who at 31 is the NFL’s youngest coach, was Shanahan’s tight ends coach with the Washington Redskins when Shanahan ran that team’s offense. McVay runs virtually the same system in Los Angeles.
Still, Shanahan said he was proud that his team took several early punches but never went down.
“They kept fighting,” he said. “I was proud of the guys in the locker room. I thought they battled until the end.”