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LOS ANGELES — It was a plot made for Tinseltown: The moment of reckoning for a cast of upstarts awash in hype but, in the eyes of many skeptics, short on substance.
If the undefeated San Francisco 49ers were finally going to be exposed, it seemed quite plausible that it would happen on the second Sunday of October at the Coliseum, where the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams were stinging from consecutive defeats and geeked up to vanquish their visiting rivals.
And sure enough, a mere five minutes and 43 seconds into Sunday’s showdown, the Rams had put the Niners and the football world on blast. After forcing a three-and-out, L.A. got the ball at its own 44-yard-line and powered through a seven-play touchdown drive without even throwing a pass, all with star running back Todd Gurley nursing a quad contusion on the sideline.
To the untrained eye, the 49ers were on the verge of coming apart. In truth, it was merely a choppy welcome to their coming-out party.
“They hit us in the mouth,” said cornerback Richard Sherman, now in his second year with the Niners after seven stellar seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. “You’ve got to give them credit — their first 15 (plays) are scripted and they’re always tough, and (Rams coach Sean McVay) had us pegged. We had to make adjustments and straighten it out. So that’s what we did.”
Sherman is not known for his understatements, but this may have been an exception. The Niners didn’t just adjust to the Rams’ scheme; they swallowed up McVay’s offense and spit it out for 75,695 fans and the entire football world to see. As impressive as it had looked six nights earlier in a 31-3 thrashing of the Cleveland Browns, the 49ers’ defense cranked it up to 11 like Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel in L.A.
By the time San Francisco’s 20-7 smackdown was complete, this much was loud and clear: These Rams (3-3) aren’t close to resembling the fast-paced, prolific operation that made it to Super Bowl LIII, and they’ll have to rally to make a run at the Niners (5-0) and Seahawks (5-1) in the NFC West, or even to compete for a playoff berth.
The 49ers, meanwhile, now have their long-awaited signature victory — really, their biggest since a 2013 divisional-round playoff win over the Carolina Panthers in the penultimate season of the Jim Harbaugh Era — and they don’t seem to be going away.
“Before this, we played some good teams, but this is a turning point,” said rookie defensive end Nick Bosa, who had another impressive outing despite being virtually shut out of the stat book. “I think people are starting to realize how good we are.”
If San Francisco’s defense is as good as it looked on Sunday, the rest of the league should be very afraid. Consider these absurd numbers:
**After surrendering that first touchdown drive, the Niners allowed only 48 net yards over the Rams’ next eight possessions. L.A. finished the day with just 165 total yards, by far the lowest of McVay’s three-year tenure.
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