Rams send 49ers and their fans trudging home unfulfilled – Daily Breeze

INGLEWOOD – If any image told the story of a celebratory evening in Inglewood, it would have been this.

The huge Oculus video board suspended over the field at SoFi Stadium showed a contingent of 49ers fans – you know, the ones that had been so loud, so confident and yeah, kind of boastful – heading toward the exits, and up the escalators, as the game clock ticked toward zero Sunday evening.

The Niners had won six straight over the Rams, those memes about Kyle Shanahan’s mastery over Sean McVay were still circulating, and the word “ownage” had become a thing in the Bay Area media.

And maybe that’s how you handle those who can irritate you the most. Give them hope and then snatch it away. Preferably, do it when it means the most and in the most excruciating way possible.

L.A. keeps doing so to San Francisco. There was the play-in victory by the Lakers over the Warriors last spring but I’m not sure that really counts since that was at the bottom of the NBA playoff field. But there was the Dodgers knocking out the Giants in Game 5 in San Francisco last October, a dramatic race between those ancient rivals reduced to one elimination game and turning on the unexpected heroics of Cody Bellinger (and, our neighbors to the north still fume, one checked swing that maybe wasn’t).

And then there was Rams 20, 49ers 17 Sunday night, sending the Rams to the Super Bowl on their home field and the 49ers home, and a game with no officiating controversy but more twists and turns than Lombard Street. (There is no Los Angeles counterpart to that famously twisty San Francisco road, as far as I can tell.)

The Rams dominated the first half in everything but the score, but they were in peril in the second half, trailing 17-7 at the end of the third quarter. The 49ers, perhaps underdogs in the Latest Line but not in their approach, imposed their will, and the Rams helped out with some inefficiency on the field – two drops of potential touchdown passes, a wide right field goal by Matt Gay on a 54-yard try, an inability to get a yard on three straight plays resulting in a turnover on downs – and a couple of truly head-scratching challenges by Sean McVay, both of which he lost to exhaust the Rams’ three second-half timeouts with 10 minutes to play.

Yet they won. The offense turned efficient, the defense – exhorted by Aaron Donald on the sideline between series – put pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo and shut the Niners down, and second-year inside linebacker Travin Howard made the play of his brief career when he dove to pick off a Garoppolo pass that tipped off JaMychal Hasty’s hands at the 49er 19 with 1:09 to play, sealing the victory.

It was a severe contrast to these teams’ last meeting in this building, Jan. 9, when the Rams let a 17-0 lead get away in a 27-24 overtime loss that enabled the 49ers to get into the playoffs and get on a roll with victories at Dallas and Green Bay.

But maybe this was meant to be.

“I told people, they’re going to beat Dallas,” Odell Beckham Jr. said. “I told them they were gonna beat Green Bay and we were going to have an opportunity to come here and play them again and just fully capitalize on it. Like I said, that 0-6 (against them), whatever was going to happen, I mean, the story could not be written any better for us to play to them in this situation and shut the door.”

Standing next to Beckham at the podium, Von Miller added this: “They beat us, you know. If we’d have won that (Week 18) game, you know, I don’t think the teams line up to create this path for us.”

Then he added with a laugh: “It definitely feels good to get our league back.”

Among other things, the go-for-broke attitude of general manager Les Snead and the Rams front office has been almost vindicated. Almost. The thinking behind trading for Matthew Stafford, trading for Miller, trading for Sony Michel, signing Beckham, and the rest had one goal: Be one of the two teams playing in SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13.

Now there’s one goal, to be the last team standing, and Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals are in the way.

Understandably, none of this has seemed to sink in yet for Stafford, who now will get a chance to play in a Super Bowl after 12 seasons in Detroit wondering what on earth it might be like.

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