When the 49ers played the Rams back on Nov. 11, they came out flat.
Don’t expect that to happen Sunday when the Niners travel to St. Louis for a rematch against a team that tied them 24-24 in a game that went to overtime.
“Oh, yes,” 49ers safety Donte Whitner told the San Francisco Chronicle this week. “They’ve got our attention.”
Since the 49ers (8-2-1) and Rams (4-6-1) last met, the Niners have been on a roll, crushing the Bears on “Monday Night Football” and beating the hot Saints last week in New Orleans.
Since that game, too, the 49ers have switched starting quarterbacks and will go with Colin Kaepernick in the game Sunday that kicks off at 10 a.m.
Alex Smith started the first game against the Rams and was playing well but left with a concussion. Kaepernick stepped in to play well for the remainder of that game, then played even better against the Bears and Saints.
For now, the second-year Kaepernick is the man leading the offense, as designated by head coach Jim Harbaugh. Though Smith was playing very well – he had been named the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Week in his previous game before suffering his concussion – Kaepernick has brought a couple of extra elements to the offense.
Kaepernick, who’s more mobile and a running threat, has been sacked just once in his two starts, and his 10 completions of 20-plus yards in 2½ games is almost half of what Smith produced (22) in 8½ games.
In their first meeting in San Francisco, the Rams were able to run the ball with Steven Jackson, who had 101 yards rushing and a touchdown. And, last week, he had a season-high 139 yards on the ground. His backup, rookie Daryl Richardson, has also been effective, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, so the Niners will have to shut down the Rams running game if they want better results this time around.
The Rams, meanwhile, know they let an opportunity slip away in their first matchup with the Niners and know getting a win this Sunday will be difficult.
San Francisco leads the NFL in scoring defense (just 14.1 points per game), has a strong rushing attack led by Frank Gore, a receiving corps that’s clicking with Kaepernick and some motivation from having to settle for a tie their first time around.
“This game is really going to tell us who we are as a team,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher told the media this week. “They’re the team to beat in our division. We got close but didn’t get it done the first time, so it should be a good challenge for us.”
After going down 14-0 to the Rams in the first quarter in their first meeting, the Niners want to come out to prove a point.
“They came out on fire and we didn’t come to play,” 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald told Eric Branch of the Chronicle. “I remember those two drives. They just wanted it more than we did.”
Oddmakers have made the 49ers 7½-point favorites.