Rams’ dreams of season turnaround dashed in San Francisco

The St. Louis Rams’ season turnaround didn’t continue as they had hoped for on Sunday in San Francisco.
The Rams showed plenty of feistiness — to go along with penalties, dropped passes and an ill-conceived fake punt — but didn’t show much else in a disappointing 23-13 loss to the 49ers that dropped them to 5-7 on the season.
No, it wasn’t as bad as that 35-11 defeat when San Francisco visited the Dome back in Week 4. But it wasn’t much better, either.
Sunday’s outcome showed that the Rams’ renovation is very much still a work in progress.
The foundation is mostly solid. The talent base is improved. There are some nice new upgrades with rookies like running back Zac Stacy, wide receiver Tavon Austin and outside linebacker Alec Ogletree.
But there’s still a ways to go before the Rams are ready to be legitimate playoff contenders.
The 49ers (8-4) entered this Week 13 matchup as a middle-of-the-road team, looking up at Seattle (10-1) in the NFC West standings and tied with Arizona, which lost to the Eagles Sunday to fall to 7-5.
And San Francisco handled St. Louis without much trouble.  
As for the playoffs, the Rams likely have to win out over the final four weeks to have any chance. That means beating the Cardinals and Seahawks on the road and the Saints and Buccaneers at the Dome.
Of that foursome, only Tampa Bay (3-9) has a worse record.
The Rams trailed 13-0 late in the second quarter on Sunday before Greg Zuerlein kicked a 43-yard field goal to get St. Louis on the scoreboard.
When Zuerlein kicked another field goal, this time from 34 yards, with 8:56 remaining in the third quarter, it trimmed the deficit to 13-6 and gave the Rams new life.
But that didn’t last long.
The 49ers got another field goal from Phil Dawson, his third of the game, with 3:25 left in the quarter to push the lead to 16-6.
Left tackle Jake Long suffered an injury on St. Louis’ next series when he and Stacy had a helmet-to-helmet collision. He was down on the ground for a few minutes and was able to walk off the field but did not return.
The Rams had lost center Scott Wells earlier to an injury, which meant the already reshuffled offensive line turned into a game of musical chairs with Tim Barnes filling in at center, Rodger Saffold moving from right guard to left tackle and Shelley Smith going in at right guard.
St. Louis caught a break when Ogletree forced a fumble by Frank Gore that was recovered by Rodney McLeod in the red zone, but the Rams’ ensuing drive ended with a fake punt deep in the Rams’ territory that got blown up by the 49ers.
Colin Kaepernick then threw a touchdown pass to Vernon Davis to make it 23-6 early in the fourth quarter.
The Rams added a Kellen Clemens touchdown pass to Brian Quick with 18 seconds remaining, but it was too little and way too late to matter.
Clemens finished 19-of-37 passing for 218 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, and a passer rating of 67.2 as he fell to 2-3 as a starter this season in place of injured Sam Bradford.
Stacy had 72 yards rushing on 19 carries as the Rams racked up 114 yards on the ground. That’s slightly better than their season average (113.8) entering the game but nowhere close to the 151.9 they’d averaged over their previous seven games.
The St. Louis defense limited the 49ers to 83 yards rushing on 30 carries, an average of 2.8 per, but San Francisco was able to convert six first downs via penalties and keep drives going. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers recorded two of the Rams’ four sacks.
St. Louis now moves closer to continuing its streaks of non-winning seasons (since 2003) and missing the playoffs (since 2004) going into next Sunday’s game in Arizona.
There’s still hope of ending both of those streaks, but it just became more difficult.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.