Two of the worst offenses in the NFL are experiencing contrasting finishes to the season.
The St. Louis Rams have finally found a rhythm and will seek their fourth straight victory when they visit the inept San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
St. Louis (7-8) averaged 10.8 points during a five-game losing streak that stretched into Week 13, plummeting to second-to-last in the NFL in scoring ahead of only San Francisco. However, the Rams have shown offensive potential during a three-game winning streak, including last week’s 23-17 upset of division rival Seattle that snapped a four-game skid on the road.
St. Louis has scored more than 20 points in three consecutive games for the first time this season, drawing a chance to finish with a .500 record for the first time since 2006. The Rams can also win four straight for the first time since posting seven consecutive victories in 2003.
"I’m certainly by no means satisfied with it, but 8-8 is better than 7-9," coach Jeff Fisher told the team’s official website.
The bitterness relayed through Fisher’s comment might be linked to St. Louis’ 11th straight season missing the playoffs, the last four under him. The five-game skid led to the firing of offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and knocked the Rams out of postseason contention.
Fisher hand-picked Cignetti this offseason to take over an offense that averaged 20.2 points in his first three years as coach. It didn’t wake up, though, until Cignetti was gone and Case Keenum pulled the quarterbacking duties away from the struggling Nick Foles — a prized offseason acquisition.
Keenum has completed 67.7 percent of his passes on St. Louis’ winning streak with three touchdowns against one interception and a passer rating of 98.9, well above Foles’ mark of 69.0 this season. The Rams have jumped out to double-digit leads in the first quarter of their last two wins behind Keenum’s 154.4 passer rating, behind only Denver’s Brock Osweiler (156.3) during that time.
The re-emergence of rookie Todd Gurley has also helped. Gurley, third in the league with 1,108 rushing yards, averaged just 42.8 from Weeks 10-13 while running for two touchdowns. He has four scores in the last three games while averaging 91.0 rushing yards.
The Rams are in position to finish 5-1 against the NFC West for what would be their best division record since posting the same mark in 2004, also the last year they swept the 49ers. San Francisco, which lost 27-6 in St. Louis on Nov. 1 as Gurley ran for 133 yards and a touchdown, is in danger of going winless in divisional play for the first time since 1978.
The 49ers (4-11) remain the lowest-scoring offense in the NFL at 14.6 points per game, two spots below St. Louis (17.6). San Francisco is also tied for the fewest touchdowns (23) and ranks second-to-last with 240 first downs, ahead of only St. Louis’ 220. The only two teams to average fewer than 300 yards are the 49ers (293.5) and Rams (293.3).
San Francisco has lost three games in a row and five of six, the latest a lethargic 32-17 defeat at Detroit last week. The 49ers are guaranteed their first losing season since 2010, and a loss in the finale would give them their worst record since finishing 4-12 in 2005.
"Where we’re at, the way I see it, we’re definitely on a one-week calendar, in terms of this team, and where we’re going, and what we’re doing, and preparing to win a game," first-year coach Jim Tomsula said. "But to me, in that itself, we’re building. Building week to week and the way you prepare and the way you work, and what you’ve got to have done, and where you need to be when you show up on game day."
Anquan Boldin could be playing his final game in a 49ers uniform. Boldin, who became the 13th player in NFL history with 1,000 receptions last week, will finish as San Francisco’s leading receiver for the third time in as many seasons since joining the team but is set to become a free agent.