Wednesday, March 22 2023

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFC West Writer

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Nick Bosa said he watched his team’s stinging loss in the NFC Championship Game for the first time in preparation for the Los Angeles Rams this week.

Observing how hard he and his teammates played in falling just short of reaching the Super Bowl helped the San Francisco 49ers conjure up a similar effort in a game they needed to stay afloat in the always competitive NFC West.

“It’s hard to kind of recreate that playoff effort in a regular-season game,” Bosa said. “No matter how hard you try, it seems like the playoffs just brings it out of you.”

However, Bosa and the Niners were successful in recreating that energy, earning a 24-9 victory over the visiting Rams at Levi’s Stadium in a nationally televised game on Monday Night Football. It was San Francisco’s seventh straight win over Los Angeles during the regular season.

The Niners dominated defensively, sacking Matthew Stafford seven times, forcing two turnovers and keeping L.A.’s explosive offense out of the end zone. The Rams were held to just 257 total yards on offense.

Los Angeles had trouble protecting Stafford in part due to a makeshift offensive line, with starting center Brian Allen, left guard David Edwards and right guard Coleman Shelton all unavailable due to injury.

While San Francisco controlled things, the contest was just a one-possession game midway through the fourth quarter. However, second-year safety Talanoa Hufanga perfectly read a screen intended for Cooper Kupp, jumping the route for an interception and returning it 52 yards for a score, putting the game away with 6:56 left to play.

“They’ve just been running screens all night,” Hufanga said about the play. “I kind of saw a different release than I’m used to. So instead of going and following my man, I just turned and the ball kind of fell in my face.”

Hufanga’s play has been a revelation for the Niners. A USC product who trains with Hall of Famer and fellow Trojan Troy Polamalu in the offseason, Hufanga has developed into a playmaker on an already talented San Francisco defense.

“He’s really smart,” Bosa said. “He’s an incredible blitzer and he can do pretty much anything on the field.”

Deebo Samuel had productive day against the Rams, finishing with six catches for 115 receiving yards and a score.

Samuel’s big play came with 2:46 left in the first half and his team up four points. The play almost went the other direction for a touchdown, as Rams cornerback Derion Kendrick jumped the route in the flat.

But he couldn’t come down with the ball, and Samuel scampered for a 57-yard touchdown, breaking would-be tackles by safety Taylor Rapp and cornerback Jalen Ramsey along the way.

The play put San Francisco up 14-6 heading into halftime.

Samuel has totaled 759 scrimmage yards and seven touchdowns in eight games against the Rams, seven of them wins.

“He delivers for us in our biggest moments at all times, especially against that damn team,” Niners offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “I’m just so excited to have him on our side and to have him bail us out, create a spark for us when we need it. He’s just such a stud.”

With San Francisco’s victory over the Rams, both teams now sit at 2-2, along with the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West.

Kupp finished with a game-high 14 receptions for 122 receiving yards on 17 targets, but his longest play was for 18 yards, as San Francisco did a good job of limiting L.A.’s explosive plays.

The Rams also had a tough time getting the running game going, totaling just 57 yards on 18 carries.

“The story of the night from an offensive perspective was self-inflicted wounds,” McVay said. “Just above-the-neck errors where we’re not doing the things we’re capable of. And I expect us to be better than that.”

Bobby Wagner led the Rams with 10 combined tackles, including one that he didn’t get credit for on the stat sheet, knocking down a fan who slid past security and ran around the field with a pink smoke bomb.

“You don’t know what that fan got or what they’re doing,” Wagner said. “You see it all the time, and we don’t know what they’re carrying in their pockets. I’s whatever that little smoke stuff is, but that s— could be dangerous.

“One of the guys on the other side, it looked like he got hurt, and security looked like he was struggling, so I was frustrated. So, I took it out on him.”

Added San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan: “I saw Bobby Wagner take somebody out. That was kind of cool to see.”

Stafford finished 32-of-48 for 254 passing yards, with no touchdowns and the interception that was returned for a score. Stafford also lost a fumble and has seven turnovers on the year. Stafford tied for the league-lead in interceptions last year with 17.

Jeff Wilson Jr. paced the Rams with 74 rushing yards, including a big run up the middle for a 32-yard touchdown run to open the scoring for San Francisco.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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