ST. LOUIS — A second quicker on this play, another body on the line of scrimmage in that play, and the St. Louis Rams would have upset the powerful 49ers, a signature win in Year 1 of Jeff Fisher’s rebuilding program.
Instead, earlier this month the teams played to the NFL’s first tie in four seasons.
Think that didn’t get the 49ers’ attention?
Three weeks later isn’t soon enough for the class of the NFC West to get a do-over.
“I would say everybody in the locker room is anxious to play these guys,” 49ers safety Donte Whitner said of today’s rematch in St. Louis. “Last time they came in here, they were ready to play, they came out and punched us in the mouth a little bit, and by the time we woke up we found ourselves in a tie.
“This time we want to go into it ready from snap one, and see where things fall.”
This time, they aim to show who’s in charge.
“We have to do what we didn’t do the first time we played them, and that’s start fast,” running back Frank Gore said.
The notion that a 24-24 tie on Nov. 11 awoke a sleeping giant prompts a long pause from Fisher, who has already doubled the Rams’ win total from last season. Fisher concedes nothing in his first season back in the NFL after a year’s sabbatical.
“You can call it whatever you want. I wouldn’t call it a wakeup call for them,” Fisher said. “I’d call it a hard-fought physical game that neither team won, so …”
The Rams (4-6-1) dominated the Niners (8-2-1) from a statistical standpoint, putting up 458 yards and going 9-for-18 on third- and fourth-down conversions. But they missed out because of penalties that wiped out three golden opportunities.
Two of them nullified 142 yards in gains by Danny Amendola: a 62-yard punt return to the 49ers 2-yard line in the third quarter that would have put the Rams on the doorstep of a 17-point cushion, and an 80-yard reception on the first snap of overtime — also to the 2. That was called back because they didn’t have enough players on the line of scrimmage.
Rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein booted a potential winning 53-yard field goal in overtime, but just after the play clock elapsed because rookie holder Johnny Hekker lost track of time. Zuerlein couldn’t convert on a 58-yard attempt, and the Rams got no more chances to squander.
So, of course the Rams think they can play with the 49ers.
“They’re in our division and it once was a rivalry, so we just go back to that,” cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. “You know what, I guess we’ve got to crank up our cars and put the gas pedal down. Let it be a game that people will remember.”