ST. LOUIS (AP) — Once again, the St. Louis Rams seem to have arrived at a crossroads.
Beat the San Francisco 49ers, and they’ve followed an impressive victory over the Browns with more of the same, climbed above .500 and improved to 3-0 against the NFC West for the first time since 2004.
Fall short, and questions of legitimacy will follow.
“This is going to test our maturity,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “Can we rise to the occasion?”
The Rams (3-3) totaled 20 wins the first three seasons under coach Jeff Fisher, often failing to follow up on strong performances. A loss at Washington the week after beating Seattle in overtime in the opener sticks out as an opportunity lost.
Entering a comparatively easier stretch in the schedule, they know consistency will be the key.
“That’s been an emphasis since the first game,” said outside linebacker/safety Mark Barron, who had 19 tackles last week. “We most definitely need to keep it up, we most definitely want to keep it there.”
The 31st-ranked offense, just ahead of dead-last San Francisco, has been the concern. It has leaned heavily on rookie Todd Gurley.
The Rans will be looking to diversify this week and get a lot more out of the passing game, aiming to keep a longtime division rival down. The Rams won the final meeting last year, but haven’t beaten the 49ers (2-5) two straight since 2004.
San Francisco has dropped five of six.
Things to watch for in 49ers-Rams:
KAEPERNICK DRAMA: After yet another awful performance against bitter rival Seattle, quarterback Colin Kaepernick found himself in the middle of the scrutiny once more — this time after Fox Sports reported that Kaepernick is “just alone, on an island in that locker room.”
Coach Jim Tomsula shot that down, as did some players on the 49ers offense, and Kaepernick, who claimed, “I have a great relationship with my teammates.”
The 49ers figure that’s part of what happens when a team has been so bad, as in gaining 142 total yards against the Seahawks, their worst offensive yardage performance in nearly nine years.
“We’ve got, trust me, a lot of things to worry about on the football field, and to really spend any time on that, it’s pointless,” backup QB Blaine Gabbert said.
FAST START: The Rams have scored just 17 points in the first quarter, all off turnovers, and realize that can’t continue if they’re to make a serious bid at a playoff spot. Gurley had 128 yards on 19 carries last week against Cleveland, but was limited to three carries for minus-2 yards in the opening period.
The second half has been much better. The Rams were successful going without a huddle after the break last week, leading to a suggestion it might be wise to open in the no-huddle.
“That was a loaded question,” quarterback Nick Foles said. “No, we’re going to run our offense. We’re going to do what works.”
STRONG D, WEAK O: The Rams forced four fumbles and had four sacks last week. They’re allowing just 16.3 points in three home games. The 49ers have been held to seven or fewer points three times, most in the NFL. Kaepernick has been sacked 25 times, tied for second most in the NFL.
REPLACING BETHEA: The 49ers’ secondary took a hit when veteran safety Antoine Bethea was placed on injured reserve after undergoing surgery Monday for a torn pectoral muscle. Now, rookie Jaquiski Tartt and second-year pro Jimmie Ward will be called on to handle larger roles and responsibilities.
“We’re really excited about both of those guys, the skill sets we’re excited about,” Tomsula said. “You don’t replace an Antoine, with everything that he brings. It’s time to move forward.”
NO LIMITS: Gurley played without a brace on his surgically repaired left knee last week and figures to do it again this week. He said he feels a lot looser without the brace, which was hanging in his locker stall this week. Gurley has been running with abandon, punishing defenders while driving for extra yards.
“What’s the point of being a running back if you can’t break a tackle?” Gurley said.
BOLDIN FACTOR: Anquan Boldin has 110 receptions for 1,513 yards against the Rams, third most by an opponent, trailing only Jerry Rice and Larry Fitzgerald, and has a TD in four of the last five games. Boldin had consecutive 100-yard games in Weeks 5 and 6, but was held to three catches for 39 yards last week.