On Christmas Eve at the LA Memorial Coliseum, the Los Angeles Rams scored three touchdowns but still lost, 22-21, as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick led a furious comeback that culminated with the controversial QB diving into the end zone on a game-winning two-point conversion.
To start the game, Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who grew up in Northern California, seemingly had a flashback to his childhood fantasies and completed a pass to the 49ers' cornerback Tramaine Brock. The 49ers took only three plays to turn that interception into a touchdown, and the Rams trailed 7-0.
"Obviously I grew up a fan of their's [Niners]," said Goff of going against his boyhood team. "Once the whistle blew though, they were just another team I was trying to beat."
However, LA responded immediately. Rookie Pharaoh Cooper started off the response with a kickoff return near mid-field. Then, the Rams took nine plays to get into the end zone, as running back Todd Gurley rushed up the middle for the touchdown.
The Rams, though, weren't done yet.
Kaepernick gave one back, as he overthrew a pass intended for tight-end Garrett Celek that fell into the arms of Rams safety Cody Davis. On the very next play, dynamic Rams receiver Tavon Austin rushed for 30 yards into the end zone for a Rams' touchdown. LA led 14-7 and had scored two touchdowns in the first quarter.
"It felt good to score my first touchdown at home," Austin said from his locker. "I got some great blocks and we called a great play at the right time. I saw my lane and I used it."
The second quarter featured a great deal of back and forth, but neither team managed to score any points. Indicative of the second quarter, Rams' punter Johnny Hekker set the NFL single season record for the most punts downed within the 20-yard line. Hekker came into the day in a tie for the record 46 touchbacks inside of the 20-yard line.
"As hard as it is, there's still positives that come out of the game. Johnny [Hekker] has had a historic season," said interim head coach John Fassel. "I'm proud of Johnny. He comes every day. He's a leader, he's tough, he's good and the guys respect him. I wish we could have gotten him a win to make Christmas a little bit more sweeter tomorrow."
As such, the Rams entered the locker room leading 14-7.
The third quarter mirrored the second quarter, which meant more punts than anything else. By the start of the fourth quarter, Hekker had already pushed his new record up to 50 punts downed inside of the 20-yard line in a single season.
The fourth quarter, though, offered a considerable uptick in excitement beyond counting punting records. After a completed pass from Kaepernick to running back Carlos Hyde, a brutal hit to Hyde's knee dislodged the football. Though the play was originally ruled incomplete, a video challenge reversed the call and gave LA the ball in a dangerous position just outside of the red zone.
Four plays and 25 yards later, Goff found tight-end Tyler Higbee open in the end zone for a touchdown. After Greg Zuerlein converted the extra point, LA led 21-7 and appeared on its way to a comfortable home victory.
"It's really hard. It's hard on everyone," Goff said after the game of the loss. "To all the fans that came out today, we're appreciative, and I promise you guys it will get fixed. I will give everything in my heart and soul to get it fixed."
However, Kaepernick found a way to scramble his way for 13 yards to score a touchdown with 5:06 remaining in the game. After the extra point, the 49ers only trailed 21-14 and suddenly, the Coliseum looked primed for an exciting finish.
After the 49ers' defense came up with a stop, San Francisco got the ball back on the 27-yard line with 3:10 to play. After a big penalty and a sturdy drive, Kaepernick found wide receiver Rod Streater who fought his way into the end zone for a touchdown.
With the clock showing 31 seconds and the 49ers losing 20-21, the team from the Bay Area decided to go for the two-point conversion. Kaepernick kept the ball on the scramble and dove into the end zone for the score.
"I had a feeling we were going for two and when coach called the play we all got excited," said Kaepernick of head coach Chip Kelly's decision to go for the win and not the tie. "Thankfully, it worked out great for us."
San Francisco took a 22-21 lead, as the stunned Rams' crowd looked on. After another interception from Goff, the Rams went on to lose.
"It's horrible," said Rams' Pro Bowl tackle Aaron Donald. "I don't know what else to say. We just keep losing and we just need to keep trying to find ways to win and finish games. It's definitely drustrating. I'm tired of going home mad each and every week."
Kaepernick finished 28-of-38 for 257 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. Goff's numbers weren't as impressive going 11-of-24 for just 90 yards a touchdown and two picks.
Gurley carried the ball 23 times for 67 yards and a touchdown, and still has not rushed for over 100 yards in his last 18 games.
Wide receiver Kenny Britt had just one catch for 15 yards before leaving the game with a right shoulder injury, but the one grab was enough to eclipse 1,000 yards on the season, the first time he's done that in his career and as a member of the Rams.
"It means everything to me," Britt said after the game. "After eight years in the NFL, I finally get my first 1,000 yard season. It's special, even though it comes from a season that we weren't expecting. It's some good things, and it's some bad things."
LA is now 4-11, and will face the Arizona Cardinals at home in the season finale next Saturday. Meanwhile, San Francisco improved to 2-13 with both wins coming against the lowly Rams.