ST. LOUIS - The rematch almost turned into a repeat.
After playing to the NFL's first tie in four seasons on Nov. 11, San Francisco and St. Louis went to overtime again on Sunday before rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein nailed a 54-yard field goal with 26 seconds left, giving the Rams a 16-13 victory.
Following 49ers kicker David Akers' 51-yard miss with 4:11 remaining, St. Louis moved 22 yards, converting a third-and-three when Sam Bradford hit a 6-yard pass to Chris Givens. After Steven Jackson's 2-yard run fell just short of a first down, Zuerlein ended the 3-hour, 36-minute marathon.
"I wasn't thinking about winning, losing or tying," Zuerlein said. "I was just thinking about making the kick."
The Rams (5-6-1) forced extra football when Zuerlein drilled a 53-yard field goal as time expired, capping a 45-yard drive on which quarterback Sam Bradford rushed for two first downs. Safety Dashon Goldson added 15 yards to the march with an ill-advised personal foul, one of 11 flags against the 49ers in a mean, physical rematch.
Forty-Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick had his first shaky moments as San Francisco's starter Sunday, making two plays that gave St. Louis its initial 10 points.
The first was a questionable call by the officals. Kaepernick, pressured into the end zone by Janoris Jenkins and James Laurinaitis, threw the ball out of bounds on a first-down play from the 49ers 17-yard line with 4:27 left in the third quarter.
Referee Carl Cheffers met with his crew for a moment, then flagged Kaepernick for intentional grounding and a safety, cutting San Francisco's lead to 7-2. Former vice-president of NFL officials Mike Pereira noted on the FOX TV broadcast, and later confirmed with The Sports Xchange, that the call appeared to be incorrect because the ball landed beyond the 17, even though it was out of bounds.
Pereira explained that the key on that call is to consider the line of scrimmage extending beyond the sideline and that is how to determine how far the pass goes, not where it crosses over the sideline, as is the case in determining the length of a punt that goes out of bounds.
Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said he didn't understand the safety call.
"They said it didn't get back to the line of scrimmage," he said of the officials' explanation. Although Harbaugh questioned the call, he did not throw the red flag to challenge it.
With the 49ers nursing a 10-2 lead, Kaepernick made a wild option pitch to Ted Ginn, Jr. that Janoris Jenkins recovered. Jenkins was granted a touchdown on his two-yard roll into the end zone when officials determined that he was not down by contact, although he did appear to be touched before crossing the end line.
That was followed by a 2-point conversion pass from Bradford to Lance Kendricks to even the score at 10 with 3:04 left.
Kaepernick appeared to make amends quickly on a 50-yard scramble with two minutes left to set up Akers' tie-breaking, 33-yard field goal with 1:34 remaining. That appeared to put San Francisco in position to capture its second straight NFC West title. But it fell to 8-3-1 and saw its lead drop to 1 1/2 games over the Seahawks, who won 23-17 in overtime in Chicago.
In his third start since taking over for Alex Smith, who suffered a concussion in the first matchup with the Rams, Kaepernick completed 21-of-32 passes for 208 yards and rushed for a game-high 84 yards on nine attempts.
"You have to remember he's a young quarterback and he's not going to play a perfect game," St. Louis defensive end Chris Long said. "I thought we did a good job stopping the run on first and second down, and putting them into third-and-long situations."
San Francisco running back Frank Gore's 1-yard run with 2:58 left in the first quarter was the only offensive touchdown in a redux of the NFL's first tie in four years, a 24-24 game on Nov. 11 in which the Rams outgained San Francisco 458-341 but cost themselves an upset win with two costly penalties in overtime that negated an 80-yard completion and Zuerlein's potential game-winning 53-yard field goal, respectively.
This time, the 49ers didn't allow St. Louis to find any kind of rhythm as their front seven pushed around the Rams' offensive line. Playing without leading receiver Danny Amendola (foot), St. Louis managed just 293 total yards and 14 first downs.
But the Rams made just enough plays at the right time to improve to 4-0-1 within the division and stay on the fringe of wild card contention in the NFC.
"It's a good feeling to be able to compete and win games within your division," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "We're a young team that's starting to learn how to win tough games. If you can keep it close, you have a chance to win every game."
Before this game, Fisher referred to the first quarter as "Quarter 6," a reference to last month's tie. Turned out these two teams couldn't get enough of each other, stretching it out to quarter 10 before finally coming up with a resolution.
"Two great football fights," Harbaugh summed up. "I thought our guys fought hard and made some clutch plays to give ourselves a chance to win, but it didn't happen."
Notes: San Francisco deactivated backup RBs LaMichael James and Jewel Hampton, leaving it with just two running backs -- Gore and Brandon Jacobs ... Before kickoff, a moment of silence was observed in honor of Rick Majerus, who passed away Saturday at the age of 64. Majerus retired last month as the Saint Louis University basketball coach ... The Rams honored 20 former players as part of their 75-year anniversary celebration at halftime. Among those who showed up were Rosey Grier, Jack Youngblood and Aeneas Williams.