Colin Kaepernick came awfully close to scoring a go-ahead touchdown for San Francisco with a quarterback sneak on third-and-goal at the 1 in the closing seconds — just as he had come awfully close to throwing a go-ahead TD pass to Michael Crabtree moments earlier.
Kaepernick did neither, though, according to the officials.
The catch by Crabtree was ruled short of the end zone. And Kaep’s keeper — some might wonder why bruising running back Frank Gore didn’t get the ball — was ruled a fumble, one that the Rams recovered to cap a 13-10 victory over the surprisingly mediocre-so-far 49ers.
There was another much-debated call at the end of the first half, when 49ers kicker Phil Dawson missed a field-goal attempt, and Tavon Austin of the Rams caught the ball near the back of the end zone, brought it out, then was tackled near the goal line. Safety? Not according to the officials.
In the end, San Francisco, a participant in each of the past three NFL championship games, is merely a .500 team at 4-4, already way behind first-place Arizona (7-1) in the NFC West.
The same San Francisco offensive line that couldn’t get enough forward push at the very end of the game had an all-around rough day, allowing Kaepernick to be sacked six times in the first half alone, eight times in all, by a St. Louis defense that entered the game with six sacks all season.
“Got to play better,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Better habits. Better assignments. Better coaching.”
In case you missed it, here are the other top topics after the NFL season’s ninth Sunday:
“BRADY’S BETTER!”: That’s what the fans in Foxborough were chanting as Tom Brady once again beat Peyton Manning, improving to 11-5 in their head-to-head meetings as New England topped Denver 43-23. With tight end Rob Gronkowski back to making the sort of no-way-to-cover-him plays — including a one-handed grab — that made him one of the NFL’s most dynamic players, the Patriots are an AFC-best 7-2 and own the NFL’s longest current winning streak at five games. “I stunk today,” Manning said after Denver dropped to 6-2 and 1-2 on the road.
BUS RIDE: Less than four hours before kickoff, a pair of buses carrying the Redskins — players, coaches, other team employees — to their game at the Vikings collided. After Washington’s 29-26 loss, coach Jay Gruden described what happened to the buses as “five feet from driving off a cliff.” A backup running back, Silas Redd Jr., was held out of the game because of back spasms, but others were unhurt.
QBs HURTIN’: Add Philadelphia’s Nick Foles to the ever-growing list of starting quarterbacks who have gotten hurt in games this season. The NFC East-leading Eagles turned to backup Mark Sanchez — remember him? — during a 31-21 victory at Houston after Foles was leveled during a sack at the end of the first quarter. Foles wound up wearing a sling. A half-dozen startering QBs missed time because of injuries this season, including Dallas’ Tony Romo on Sunday.
BIG BEN: Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger is the first player in NFL history to toss 12 touchdown passes over two games; he had six in a 43-23 win over Baltimore, a week after having six against Indianapolis. Oh, and there’s this: Roethlisberger threw zero interceptions in those two games.
WHAT’S UP WITH THE CHARGERS?: Philip Rivers threw three interceptions, failed to throw a TD pass for the first time in 29 games and was shut out for the first time in his NFL career, as San Diego lost at Miami 37-0. The Chargers lost their third in a row to drop to 5-4.