SAN FRANCISCO (AP)—The San Francisco 49ers sacked Marc Bulger six times in each of their meetings with the St. Louis Rams this season. The quarterback’s second round of punishment didn’t hurt nearly as much.
Bulger passed for 155 yards and hit Torry Holt with an early touchdown pass, and the St. Louis defense was solid until the final seconds Sunday in a 13-9 victory over the 49ers, who lost their eighth straight.
Back in mid-September, the Rams (2-8) were heading downhill for their own eight-game skid in a one-point loss to the 49ers, who haven’t won since. Bulger could barely get dressed after that defeat, but he left Candlestick Park upright and enthused by his improving club’s prospects after the shortest of win streaks.
“You appreciate it more when you start out 0-8,” Bulger said. “We know we’re a better team now. … It was the ribs (that hurt) last time, but there’s nothing major today.”
Sure, Bulger realized the Rams couldn’t score a touchdown after their opening drive and managed just 38 yards of offense in the second half. But the defense had little trouble with San Francisco’s league-worst offense until two desperate fourth-quarter drives.
And after the longest winless start in the franchise’s 70-year history, the Rams have won both outings with Steven Jackson back in good health. The star running back had 92 persistent yards in his second full game after missing four weeks with a torn groin muscle and most of another game with a bulging disk in his back.
“We’re really showing we’re not going to lay down or roll over,” Jackson said. “We dug ourselves in a deep hole, and now we’re trying to catapult ourselves out of it.”
After Joe Nedney’s third field goal cut St. Louis’ lead to four points with 1:51 to play, the 49ers (2-8) drove 68 yards in the final 88 seconds to the St. Louis 21. But with 3 seconds to play, Trent Dilfer’s final pass was intercepted at the goal line by Oshiomogho Atogwe.
Dilfer passed for 231 yards—141 in the fourth quarter—while filling in for Alex Smith as the 49ers slid into their longest losing streak since 1999. San Francisco hasn’t won since its trip to St. Louis and hasn’t scored a touchdown since the opening drive of its loss in Atlanta two weeks ago.
San Francisco had a chance to tie it late, but tight end Vernon Davis and Darrell Jackson dropped tough potential touchdown catches on consecutive plays leading up to the 2-minute warning. Coach Mike Nolan settled for the field goal — an unusual tactic that nearly paid off.
“I knew with three timeouts, I’d get the ball back and then we’d be playing for a win rather than overtime,” Nolan said. “We had not been that effective (offensively), so if I could go for a win rather than overtime, I’d do it.”
Dilfer was 20-of-42 with two interceptions in his latest chance to fill in for Alex Smith, who sat out with a sore throwing arm that caused plenty of drama in San Francisco over the past week.
Until the final minutes, Dilfer couldn’t spark an offense that managed 96 yards in the first three quarters before finishing with 244. The Rams’ defense had its way with the San Francisco offensive line, repeatedly stopping Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore at the scrimmage line.
Holt’s 3-yard TD catch capped a 79-yard march on St. Louis’ opening drive. Both defenses stiffened after that, particularly after halftime. Both teams combined for 29 net yards and one first down in the third quarter.
“It became pretty evident in the third quarter that they were going to struggle to score, and we were going to put it on our defense,” Bulger said. “It was just up to myself and the offense … not to turn it over, not to give them big plays.”
The 49ers didn’t gain 100 total yards until Dilfer’s shovel pass to Gore with 10:10 to play, and Nedney’s 38-yard field goal cut St. Louis’ lead to seven points.
The Niners made another solid drive to the Rams 28, but Davis couldn’t haul in a heavily defended catch over the middle. Then a solid throw to Jackson bounced off the veteran receiver’s hands.
“Those are the type of balls I need to have,” said Jackson, who dropped a potential game-winner against Arizona earlier in the season. “It was definitely a good pass from Trent.”
Rams WR Isaac Bruce had five catches for 54 yards, passing Henry Ellard to move into sixth place on the NFL’s career yardage list. … The win was the 500th in Rams franchise history. … Smith wore his helmet while watching on the sideline, but didn’t play.