“It’s in y’all hands,” defensive end James Hall said. “How bad do you want it?”
Faced with a must-win situation to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Rams got the message. Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford led St. Louis on three scoring drives in the second half as the Rams pulled out a 25-17 victory in front of 52,820 raucous fans at Edward Jones Dome.
“It was a gut-check win,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “We go up, we came out like we needed to. A couple of big plays and all of the sudden the thing swings and we’re down by two at halftime. But we talked last night about actually being in the locker room at halftime and no matter what the score was, 30 minutes would be gone and we would be looking at getting a must-win. And there was some resolve in the locker room at halftime and I thought they came out in the second half and played pretty well.”
The Rams (7-8) now go into their season finale at the Seattle Seahawks (6-9) next week knowing that if they win, they will clinch their first playoff bid since 2004.
“I think when you set out at the beginning of the year, you always want to have the opportunity to make the playoffs late in the year,” Bradford said. “Here we are going into our last regular season game and we control our own destiny. If that doesn’t excite you, I really don’t know what does.”
Bradford completed 28 of 37 passes for 292 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 107. In the second half, he completed 16 of 20 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown and a QB rating of 118.3.
The quarterback now has 335 completions on the season, which broke Peyton Manning’s record (326, 1998) for the most by a rookie in NFL history. His 554 attempts is now just second behind Manning’s rookie record of 575.
“It was tough for us to run the football, but I thought we protected well when we threw it,” Spagnuolo said. “And the guys were getting open, give Sam a little bit of time and he’ll find an open receiver. So our guys were finding ways to separate and kind of move the ball down field a little bit.”
Danny Amendola caught eight passes for 53 yards. Danario Alexander had six catches for 99 yards. Brandon Gibson caught three passes for 69 yards.
Running back Steven Jackson rushed 24 times for 48 yards and a touchdown and caught three passes for 19 yards.
“It wasn’t just one player,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t just one phase of the game. Everyone contributed equally in this game when situations called. Our special teams stepped up. Defense, they were outstanding. Our pass offense. It was a total win. That’s what you want to see.”
St. Louis, which finished 5-3 at home after going 2-22 combined the previous three seasons at the Edward Jones Dome, led 7-0 after Jackson capped off the Rams’ opening series with a 1-yard touchdown run with 11 minutes and 21 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Rams stretched that advantage to 9-0 after Hall sacked 49ers quarterback Troy Smith in the end zone for a safety with 2:47 remaining in the quarter.
The 49ers (5-10), who finished 1-7 on the road this season, got back into the game with a 78-yard punt return touchdown by Ted Ginn with 9:26 left in the second quarter.
The Rams answered with a scoring drive, capped off by 43-yard field goal from Josh Brown, but the 49ers came right back to take the lead on a 60-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Michael Crabtree on third-and-long to take a 14-12 lead with 2:32 remaining in the first half.
Then came an animated halftime talk in the Rams locker room.
“It was to leave everything out there,” Jackson said. “Thirty minutes of football between if we were going to have a possibility of winning the division or put ourselves out of contention to go into the postseason. It was a talk that I think really propelled us. It was good to see our leader do that, Coach Spags.”
The 49ers got the ball to start the second half, but safety Oshiomogho Atogwe intercepted a pass from Smith and the Rams turned that into a 30-yard field goal by Brown and a 15-14 lead with 9:34 left in the third quarter.
Kicker Jeff Reed missed a 34-yard field goal wide left late in the third quarter that could have given the 49ers back the lead and the Rams closed out the fourth quarter with two more scores and strong defense.
Bradford hooked up with Alexander, the rookie out of the University of Missouri, for three straight passes during one series, including a 46-yarder down the left sideline.
That long completion, which was originally ruled a touchdown but overturned, set up a 3-yard touchdown pass from Bradford to Robinson after the quarterback rolled out to his right to buy more time. That score gave the Rams a 22-14 lead with 9:36 left.
“I saw Sam scrambling and I was running with him,” Robinson said. “Then we made eye contact and I kind of just stopped and he just put it on me.”
The Rams and 49ers traded field goals from that point — Reed made a 47-yarder to cut the deficit to 22-17 before Brown made it 25-17 with a 28-yarder — before the hosts defense closed out the game.
The St. Louis defense came to play on Sunday. The Rams forced five fumbles, combined for four sacks, snagged two takeaways and held San Francisco to just 4-of-16 on third down.
“Guys stepped up today,” said Hall, who finished with eight tackles, two forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks. “I’m proud of these guys, I really am. We responded coming out of halftime, going back out there and fighting for a win. I’m proud of these guys, especially in the situation of the game. We’re fighting to win this division. I’m real proud of this team.”