49ers 23, Rams 20, OT

After getting back into the NFC West race with two gutsy

performances by their new starting quarterback, the San Francisco

49ers think they’ve finally found the right Smith for the job.

Joe Nedney kicked a 29-yard field goal with 9:38 left in

overtime, and Troy Smith passed for 356 yards while leading two

late scoring drives in the 49ers’ 23-20 victory over the St. Louis

Rams on Sunday.

Smith earned his second straight victory as a starter for the

49ers (3-6), throwing a go-ahead 16-yard touchdown pass to Michael

Crabtree with 2:10 left in regulation before leading the winning

drive in OT.

Although he realizes he won’t remind anybody of Joe Montana or

Steve Young just yet, Ohio State’s former Heisman Trophy winner is

thriving in place of Alex Smith, who’s out with a separated left

shoulder.

”When you’re part of a team that has nothing but a winning

tradition, you want to keep that going as a quarterback,” Troy

Smith said, overlooking the 49ers’ current seven-year absence from

the playoffs. ”There’s too many tremendous athletes here to not

share, for everybody to not have the opportunity to make a play.

It’s on me for distribution.”

With agility, mental resilience and a knack for making

on-the-move throws into St. Louis’ porous secondary, Smith started

slowly but went 17 for 28. He also outplayed Rams rookie Sam

Bradford in the first NFL meeting of Heisman-winning quarterbacks

since Carson Palmer and Vinny Testaverde faced off six years

ago.

Nobody will get any trophies after this often-ugly game – but

thanks to their division’s profound mediocrity, San Francisco is

back in the chase for its first playoff berth since 2002, just two

games behind leader Seattle. St. Louis fell a game back of first

place after losing on the road for the 20th time in 22 games.

”Somehow we’ve got to find that killer instinct,” said

Bradford, who went 30 of 42 for 251 yards and a touchdown in his

fourth road loss. ”We have to be able to put teams away when the

game is on the line.”

The 49ers overcame 14 penalties – including two that wiped out

fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Crabtree and Vernon Davis – and

the late loss of starting left tackle Joe Staley to a broken leg

with outstanding drives on their final two possessions. St. Louis

couldn’t stop Smith from leading a 76-yard march for Crabtree’s

catch, followed by a 55-yard drive for Nedney’s winner.

Coach Mike Singletary wouldn’t pick his starter for next week,

but it’s fairly clear Troy Smith energizes his teammates in ways

Alex Smith hasn’t mastered.

”When we go out there, it’s just like we’re little kids,” said

Gore, who rushed for 87 yards and caught three passes for 67 more,

including a pivotal fourth-down reception during the final

regulation drive. ”It feels good, because going back to the first

eight games, something was always going wrong for us.”

After Bradford and Steven Jackson led the Rams (4-5) back for

Josh Brown’s 33-yard field goal on the final snap of regulation,

St. Louis couldn’t get a first down after winning the overtime coin

toss.

Smith swiftly moved the 49ers 55 yards, converting on third down

for the first time in the game when St. Louis’ Oshiomogho Atogwe

was called for a 22-yard pass interference penalty.

Nedney then made his third field goal despite injuring his leg

on the opening kickoff of San Francisco’s fifth straight win over

St. Louis.

Danny Amendola caught an early TD pass for St. Louis, which went

ahead 17-10 late in the third quarter on Jackson’s 13-yard TD run

through traffic. Jackson rushed for 81 yards and made a tough

25-yard catch to set up the tying field goal for the Rams, who have

lost seven straight road games.

”Stick together. Everyone stick together,” Jackson said.

”Everyone trust in what we’re trying to get done, what we’re

trying to establish here. We have seven games to go. Although this

is a tough one to swallow … we’re still in the middle of

things.”

Gore caught two big passes on the 49ers’ 76-yard go-ahead drive

in the final minutes of regulation, including an inexplicably

wide-open 23-yard reception on fourth-and-18 when a stop would have

finished it for St. Louis.

”Nothing more frustrating,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said.

”You never relax, but a good quarterback got it to a good back

twice. There’s no excuse for that. Really, that can’t happen.”

Notes: Staley was on crutches after the game. He broke his left

fibula. … A first-quarter penalty also erased a long interception

return by San Francisco CB Nate Clements. … St. Louis also lost

LT Rodger Saffold to an ankle injury in the first half, but

Spagnuolo didn’t think the injury would be a long-term problem.