It is one of my most vivid memories of watching football as a kid. I was standing in the hallway looking into the den at the television and I saw San Francisco 49ers Quarterback John Brodie take the snap, make one move back, and then run up the middle on a perfect quarterback draw that had him go 12-yards into the endzone without being touched by a Los Angeles Rams defender.
The 49ers upset Los Angeles in that 1970 fourth week of the season matchup. Brodie’s touchdown run was the first peg in a 20-6 San Francisco victory. They wouldn’t beat the Rams again for five years, losing ten straight games before pulling out a one point victory in 1975. But, beginning with that early season boost, the 49ers outdistanced the Rams in their division race three years in a row beginning in 1970.
This year, nearly 50 years later, the 49ers are meeting the Rams in Los Angeles again and not expected to win. The defending National Football Conference champion Rams have lost two straight games; few would think their talented squad was destined to lose as many as three in a row.
But, this is the Rams campaign after losing the Super Bowl, a role that has plagued many teams. The Rams rose to prominence two seasons ago, ending a streak of 10 consecutive losing seasons and capturing the NFC West Division. Last year, from a motivational perspective on season-to-season flows, the Rams could have been expected to have a down year, particularly against the point spread. Instead, they were even on the line at 7-7-2, and one of the best teams in the league straight-up, advancing all the way to Super Bowl LIII, which resulted in a loss to the New England Patriots.
Now, the Rams on the season-to-season chart remain in a dicey spot. Yet, after an opening win in Carolina and a second week romp over the visiting New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles appeared to have overcome the year after a Super Bowl loss dip. But, a third week primetime contest in Cleveland proved a true challenge against a Browns team that led the game entering the fourth quarter before absorbing a seven point loss, 20-13.
After that narrow win over the Browns, the Rams have lost twice, two weeks ago at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 55-40, and last Thursday night in Seattle to the Seahawks, 30-29. Now they return home chasing the 49ers in the standings. San Francisco won their fourth straight game without a loss on Monday night against the Browns in convincing fashion, 31-3. Their 4-0 mark is 1½ games better than the Rams, who are in third place in the NFC West behind both the 49ers and second place Seattle Seahawks, who have a 4-1 season mark.
It seems so logical that the Rams win this game, pull within a half game of the front running 49ers and maybe catch the Seahawks if they get upset in Cleveland. What sounds more likely? The 49ers moving out to 5-0 with the Rams at 3-3, or the Rams closing to within a half game of San Francisco with a 4-2 mark versus the 49ers 4-1?
Thing is, just like in 1970, the 49ers are loaded for an upset. They are not looking at the standings, more than likely knowing that beating the Rams here would be a monumental achievement. But, something about this 49ers team just clicks.
Nick Bosa is more than advertised, the first round choice of the 49ers appears in his rookie year to already be in a class that could eventually have him fare well in comparisons to the likes of J.J. Watt and Lawrence Taylor. The man has an engine that doesn’t quit, and if he stays healthy the 49ers could benefit from four or five exception seasons from the Ohio State product.
The 49ers also won a game three weeks ago, the Sunday before their bye week, over the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers. In that game, which was a motivational trap for the young Niners, they turned the ball over five times and still came out ahead on the scoreboard. Even in last week’s lopsided victory over the Browns, San Francisco left some points on the field both offensively and with special teams play.
The point is, the 49ers have not yet played up to their full potential with a rhythm that requires time working together to develop. What is exciting, is the 49ers are not only noticing these problems, they have the talent and chemistry to improve as the season progresses.
Still, there is no way they can beat the Rams this week in Los Angeles. But, with the point spread, and the possibility that it could happen, I’ll take my chances with the hotter team on the rise than the remains of a fading Super Bowl loser.
Qoxhi Picks: San Francisco 49ers (+3½) over Los Angeles Rams