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INGLEWOOD, California – It was an appropriate way for the San Francisco 49ers to beat their ticket to the off-season.
Left for dead at the break, just as they were at halfway through their season, the Niners, led by a brave performance from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, scratched their way back from a 17-point deficit to a dramatic 27-24 victory in overtime against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday.
49ers kicker Robbie Gould scored a 24-yard field goal with 2:45 left in the OT, and San Francisco’s defense held on to victory with the first career interception from rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas.
“Boys came together, guys made great plays on the third try, the defense increased tremendously, listening to Ambry eventually there – a rookie playing – all things connected,” Garoppolo, who played through a torn ligament in his right thumb, told Fox Sports on the field after the match. “It was a good night.”
With the win, 10-7 Niners locked seed No. 6 in the NFC playoffs and face the Dallas Cowboys in the wildcard round next Sunday at 6 p.m. 16:30 ET. Along with the Arizona Cardinals’ defeat to the Seattle Seahawks, the Rams still got NFC West and the fourth seed of the conference.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp finished the game with seven receptions at 118 yards and a touchdown, but failed to set NFL records to receive yards and receptions in a season. Coup needed 136 receiving yards to break Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson’s record of 1,964 receiving yards set in 2012, and 12 receptions to break New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas’ mark of 149 receptions set in 2019.
According to investigations by Elias Sports Bureau, the 49ers’ 17-point rally made the biggest comeback in a season finale to finish a playoff spot since 1990, joining the Raiders from 1993, who also came back from down by 17 to beat the Denver Broncos in overtime to signal a bid after the season.
“You want it to go well and you want to be up early and have momentum and all that kind of thing,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “But I think that kind of shows the resilience of this football team and I think it’s the perfect type of victory that we needed on our way into this tournament because it’s not going to be easy. NFC is full with talent, and if we really want to reach our final goal, we have to take it one game at a time and really strike in because we need everyone to win against Dallas. “
After trailing by 17 in the first half, history suggested the 49ers were heading for a long offseason in which they lamented missed opportunities. The Niners, even without their starting left tackle, nickel cornerback, weakside linebacker, punter and strong safety, had other ideas.
Utilizing the same strength that enabled them to rebound from a 3-5 start and a four-game losing streak, Niner got important contributions from the entire series.
“Our guys are really resilient,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Our goal every year is to get into the tournament so you have a chance at the ultimate and our guys, I think it’s really hard where you have a season where you lose four in a row. Most places lose you four in a row it’s hard to keep guys together – and just the character in the building and the players and everyone around, it makes it easy, you just focus on your job and keep fighting, and that’s what our guys have done all along the year. “
Sunday’s victory was the Niners’ first after facing a 17-plus-point deficit since the 2012 NFC Championship match against the Atlanta Falcons. Over the last 20 seasons, the Niners were 3-91 as they faced such deficits, including the off-season.
Likewise, the Rams had never lost a game in which they had the lead at the break under coach Sean McVay, who were 45-0 in those scenarios since the takeover in 2017. Los Angeles’ streak was the second longest in NFL history, only behind. Green Bays 49 right from 1926 to 1933, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“Right now, it’s a tough feeling,” McVay said. “Our guys did a great job of being able to navigate through the season and still win the division. It’s a good achievement, but I do not know that right now is a good time to celebrate it. We want to watch this movie, we clean up and we will move on to the right path. “
The 49ers’ comeback victory was a draw for the fourth biggest on the road in franchise history, and their sixth win in a row against the Rams.
“Everyone played today, whether it was the game, passing game, special team, defense, everyone played really well,” said tight-end George Kittle. “We came back and played through it.”
To make that happen, the Niners needed a lot of magic in the late game. They rose to a draw at 17 in the third quarter and appeared to be ready to take the lead before Garoppolo threw an interception to Jalen Ramsey deep into Los Angeles territory.
But Garoppolo, who came in on Sunday listed as questionable with the thumb injury, showed his determination and led the Niners on an 88-yard touchdown drive in 1:01 to equalize it with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings.
Garoppolo continued where he left off in overtime, quickly leading the Niners down the field with a couple of third-down finishes for Jennings to put up the match-winning scoring.
Asked how his injured thumb held up, Garoppolo told Fox Sports, “It was definitely tested. It’s football,” before adding with a laugh, “It f — hurts.”
“That’s what it is,” he continued. “We got the win and that’s all that matters.”
Jennings, the former seventh-round draft pick who has emerged over the last month as a key target in meaningful moments, finished with six catches on 94 yards and a touchdown. Garoppolo finished 23-of-32 for 316 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for a pass rating of 87.5.
They were just two of the heroes on a day when the Niners needed all hands on deck to keep this wild, unpredictable season alive.
“A lot of emotion,” Garoppolo said. “Throughout the match also only ups and downs, getting started slowly and then getting back as we did. It took everything. We say that for many weeks, but this one really did, and I felt it. After the match. I know that many guys in that locker room did it. It was worth it though. It was one of those fights that you will not forget in the near future. “
ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry contributed to this report.