While the Rams clearly were looking ahead to the playoffs on Sunday, the 49ers were intent on finishing their season with a bang.
That resolve only grew more ironclad when receiver Marquise Goodwin was knocked from the game following an ugly hit to the head deep in Los Angeles territory.
After a long delay in which incensed 49ers players had to be separated from their Rams counterparts and during which a wobbly Goodwin was carted off the field, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo gathered the shaken 49ers offensive players at the Los Angeles 8-yard line.
“Jimmy’s like, ‘Let’s do this for Marquise now. Let’s punch this thing in for Marquise,’” receiver Louis Murphy said. “And everybody was like, ‘Hell yeah!’”
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Kyle Shanahan said he figured his straight-ahead run call might pick up two yards. That’s what running back Carlos Hyde gained initially, but he refused to go to the ground and pretty soon had the entire 49ers offensive line at his back shoving and propelling him into the end zone. Hyde scored twice in San Francisco’s 34-13 win, but the touchdown before the half clearly was the emotional fulcrum of the game.
“Guys took that personal,” Hyde said of the hit on Goodwin. “We all thought that was a nasty hit, uncalled for, unnecessary. We put it on ourselves to finish the game off with a chip on our shoulders for Marquise.”
Said Shanahan: “The guys are competitive out there and they were very concerned about their brother. And they wanted an answer on the next play.”
After starting the season 0-9, the 49ers will go into 2018 with a five-game win streak, the longest in the NFL. They are the only team to go undefeated in the month of December.
They’ve won on last-second comebacks and by outlasting quality opponents like they did last week against Jacksonville.
Sunday’s win was a blowout from the start. The Rams rested their top starters, including running back Todd Gurley, quarterback Jared Goff and four members of the starting offensive line.
The 49ers resisted the urge to do the same, with Shanahan joking in the run-up to the contest that his goal was to have the worst draft pick possible. At 6-10, the 49ers tied the Raiders and will have a coin toss against their cross-bay rivals to determine which team picks ninth and 10th in April. That coin toss will occur at Feburary’s scouting combine.
San Francisco won in a rout Sunday despite Garoppolo, who remains undefeated as an NFL starter, being merely good.
The 49ers quarterback threw two touchdowns, completed 61 percent of his passes and finished with 292 yards. But he also threw two interceptions – giving him five in his five starts – on two bad-read passes over the middle. The 49ers lost the turnover battle, 3-2.
“Right before halftime – you can’t have that, giving them a chance like that,” Garoppolo said of his second interception. “But our defense stepped up big, held them to, I think it was, two field goals on both of those turnovers. So that’s good, complementary football, and that’s what’s making us a good team right now.”
Garoppolo and the 49ers, however, remained poised and in control throughout and converted half of their third-down attempts. The offense also leaned heavily on a running game that gouged Los Angeles for 171 yards, 90 of them from Hyde and 72 more from rookie Matt Breida.
One of the big storylines of the offseason will be whether the team can ink Garoppolo to a long-term deal. They expect to be able to retain him for 2018 with the franchise tag, but a multiyear contract would give the organization an element of stability it’s lacked for years.
In just one month, the 49ers clearly look at Garoppolo as one of their team leaders if not the team leader. For his part, the 49ers quarterback seemed like he had been swept up by the team’s momentum and young energy as much as anyone.
He said that when he arrived, the 49ers didn’t act like a winless team.
“I think it was just the atmosphere in the locker room, a great group of guys coming together, and good things came from it,” Garoppolo said. “It’s a blessing I came here and good things are happening.”