SAN FRANCISCO (AP)—When Orlando Pace got a look at the St. Louis Rams’ game plan for San Francisco, he saw exactly what he was hoping for—and he figured every problem with St. Louis’ offense would be solved in a hurry.
“We were all tired of pass-blocking all day,” the All-Pro tackle said. “We knew we could run the ball on these guys, and we knew we could pass it also. I loved this game plan. People could see how good we are.”
The Rams put it out of reach early, with Pace and the offensive line crushing the 49ers’ defense on four straight scoring drives in the first half. St. Louis built a 24-0 halftime lead, and the sellout crowd booed San Francisco off the field while heading for the exits.
Isaac Bruce had seven catches for 100 yards as the Rams (2-2) got their ninth victory in 11 games against their longtime rivals—their first in San Francisco in three years.
Coach Mike Martz was criticized for his pass-heavy schemes during consecutive losses in the past two weeks, but he had little flash in the game plan against the 49ers—just solid, balanced offense. During four drives consuming more than 20 minutes, Martz called 19 running plays and 18 passes in the first half.
“This team has potential,” Martz said. “We still need to fix a lot of things, but that was a very dominant effort by the entire team in the first half. We are on the right track.”
The defense also forced its first two turnovers of the season, leading to 10 points.
Meanwhile, the 49ers’ struggles got even more depressing, thanks to another slow start.
Despite three lengthy fourth-quarter drives, the 49ers are winless after four games for the first time since 1979, the year Bill Walsh took over the franchise and led its transformation into a five-time Super Bowl champion.
“When you’ve lost four like we have, obviously there’s some fractured confidence and some fractured morale,” coach Dennis Erickson said. “All we can do is fight through it.”
Tim Rattay, who missed the 49ers’ previous two games with a separated shoulder, was 31-of-47 for 299 yards and two touchdowns, while tight end Eric Johnson had career highs of 10 catches for 113 yards.
Last week, the 49ers were shut out for the first time since 1977 in a 34-0 loss to Seattle—also trailing 24-0 at halftime. After three more scoreless quarters against the Rams, they avoided another goose egg on Curtis Conway’s 9-yard TD catch with 13:33 to play.
Rattay, who passed for 134 yards in the fourth period, added an 18-yard TD pass to rookie Rashaun Woods with 16 seconds left.
The 49ers had an NFL-worst minus-7 turnover differential entering the game, and they quickly extended their lead with a fumble and an interception in the first 16 minutes.
After St. Louis went 80 yards on its opening drive, Rattay lost the ball on a hit by Tommy Polley late in the first quarter. Leonard Little recovered at the San Francisco 11, setting up McDonald’s short TD catch.
Jerametrius Butler picked off Rattay’s pass down the sideline on the Niners’ next possession, and St. Louis drove 79 yards for a field goal. The Rams then made a 91-yard drive, capped by Jackson’s TD run with 29 seconds left in the half.
“Turnovers throw you all out of whack offensively,” said Fred Beasley, the 49ers’ Pro Bowl fullback. “And then you put too much pressure on your defense, and then you ask a young quarterback to do too much. We’re frustrated, because we know we’re so much better than what we’re showing on the field.”
The boos began in the first quarter, reaching a crescendo when Rattay’s final first-half pass sailed 5 yards out of bounds. Meanwhile, Bulger was 15-of-18 for 166 yards in the first half.
San Francisco lost CB Mike Rumph to a broken right arm in the second quarter. How long will he be out? “It could be the year. I don’t know,” Erickson said. … The 49ers also played without injured WR Brandon Lloyd and DE Andre Carter, while the Rams were missing G Chris Dishman and CB DeJuan Groce. … Conway’s TD catch was the 50th of his career.