RECAP: Rams secure first-round bye in NFL Playoffs with win over 49ers
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Even after everything the Los Angeles Rams have accomplished this season, they still knew they probably needed to beat rival San Francisco in the finale for a first-round playoff bye.
Although their high-powered offense did its part as usual, a four-takeaway effort by the defense was even more exciting while the Rams secured a well-deserved week off.
Cory Littleton returned one of his two interceptions for a TD as the Rams (13-3) completed their winningest regular season since 2001 by making sure they get a few days off before they attempt to earn their first playoff victory since the 2004 season.
“We’ll enjoy all of that tonight, and understand how big of an accomplishment that is,” said Goff, who passed for 199 yards. “You feel great at 13-3. We’re coming off two great wins, and we get to finish the season 6-0 (against the division). Only team in the league that did that.”
The Rams needed the win over the Niners or a loss by Chicago to clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC postseason. Los Angeles didn’t count on the Bears, who ended up beating Minnesota. The Rams played nearly every starter except Todd Gurley and jumping to a 14-0 lead in the first five minutes before stretching it to 28-3 midway through the second quarter.
C.J. Anderson rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown in his second 100-yard game in place of Gurley, who sat out again to rest his knees.
The Rams hadn’t swept San Francisco since 2004, but coach Sean McVay dropped 87 points on his friend Kyle Shanahan’s club in two meetings this season.
“We’re going into (the bye week) with a lot of confidence after this,” Reynolds said. “The rest is going to help us out, and we’ll be at our best when the playoffs start.”
Nick Mullens passed for 282 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions for the 49ers (4-12), who wrapped up their fifth consecutive non-winning season. San Francisco went winless on the road for the first time since 1979, Bill Walsh’s first season in charge.
George Kittle set the NFL’s single-season record for yards receiving by a tight end with 1,377 when he caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Mullens with 2:20 left. Alfred Morris rushed for 111 yards and a score.
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) December 31, 2018
While the Rams’ defense put together a series of big plays to cap a strong month of work, San Francisco’s defense set an NFL record with just seven takeaways all season after failing to force a turnover by Goff and his teammates.
“That was the disappointing thing about the game,” Shanahan said. “Not just Nick. It was about everybody. Starting that game off with four turnovers, same way we did the last time versus them, it doesn’t give yourself much of a chance to play.”
The Rams clinched the division four weeks ago, but missed the chance to secure a week off when they lost at Chicago two weeks later. The Bears pushed LA until the final week, but the Rams took control quickly at the Coliseum.
On the game’s fourth snap, Aqib Talib returned a fumble inside the Niners 10. After Cooks caught a TD pass, Littleton returned his first interception 22 yards and Anderson punched it in.
Littleton, the Rams’ do-it-all linebacker and Pro Bowl special-teamer, took his second pick 19 yards to the house early in the second quarter for what he claimed was the first defensive touchdown of his football life.
Kittle got the record with nine catches for 149 yards, including five for 95 yards in the fourth quarter. He surpassed both Rob Gronkowski‘s 2011 record of 1,327 yards and the new mark set earlier Sunday by Kansas City’s Travis Kelce, who finished this season with 1,336.
“I was like, ‘Well, I’ll let (Kelce) have it for a little bit, and then I’m going to take it,'” Kittle said.
The Niners were determined to get the record, targeting Kittle 14 times — including six times in the fourth quarter of a blowout. Shanahan said he wanted this record after Kittle had 210 yards receiving in the first half against Denver earlier this month, but failed to top Shannon Sharpe’s single-game record of 214 yards for a tight end because he didn’t catch a pass in the second half.
“My position coach and some other guys were giving me little updates,” Kittle said. “Definitely going into the last drive, ‘Hey, you need 9 yards, so make it 15.’ I said, ‘Hey, I’ll take it to the end zone, I guess.'”
Aaron Donald had one sack to finish with 20½ for the season. The Rams’ peerless defensive tackle fell short of Michael Strahan’s single-season sacks record of 22½, but Donald still set an NFL record with 183.5 total sack yards when he dropped Mullens for an 8-yard loss in the first half.
49ers: LG Laken Tomlinson left the field on a cart in the second quarter with an apparent right knee injury.
Rams: LT Andrew Whitworth injured his knee in the second quarter. He didn’t return, but rookie Joseph Noteboom appeared to play well in his absence. McVay is cautiously optimistic Whitworth’s injury is no more than a bruise. … The Rams rested Gurley and safety Lamarcus Joyner. Blake Countess started in Joyner’s place, but left early with a concussion.