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Niners quarterback Alex Smith, hit here by Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, had to leave the game with a concussion. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
It was a battle both teams could have won and both could have lost.
In the end, neither the San Francisco 49ers or St. Louis Rams walked away from Candlestick Park Sunday with a victory or a loss.
After a scoreless overtime period, the game finished in a 24-24 tie.
“Don’t quite know how to feel,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh told the media afterward. “It was a hard-fought game and it came out even.”
In a way, the Niners – now 6-2-1 – were fortunate to escape without a defeat.
The Niners – playing without quarterback Alex Smith, who had to leave in the second quarter with a concussion -- tied the game at the end of regulation on David Akers’ 33-yard field goal, then withstood two scares in overtime. Earlier in the fourth quarter, they had managed a go-ahead touchdown on Frank Gore’s 20-yard sprint when the Rams fumbled the ball away on a kick return.
The first OT scare came on the Rams’ first play from scrimmage when an 80-yard pass-run completion to Danny Amendola was negated by an illegal formation.
The second came when a delay of game flag wiped out what would have been a 53-yard field goal by rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein. His re-kick from 58 yards out was never on target.
The 49ers also had a chance to win it on a kick, but David Akers missed from 41 yards.
How rare is a tie in today’s NFL? It was the first tie in the league since 2008. The tie also was the first for the 49ers since 1986, and the first for the Rams since 1976, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
It was a wild game, with two successful fake-punt plays by the Rams, a terrific day by Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (26-of-39, 275 yards, two TDs) and a fine performance by St. Louis running back Steven Jackson (101 yards).
In relief of Smith, Kaepernick started shaky but then picked up steam, completing 11-of-17 throws for 117 yards and rushing eight times for 66 yards and a TD. Frank Gore rushed for 97 yards – including that 20-yard scoring burst in the fourth quarter – and receiver Michael Crabtree had another big day with five catches for 70 yards and a score.
But this game wasn’t supposed to be close.
The Niners came in at 6-2 as heavy favorites, and the Rams were struggling and losers of three straight.
San Francisco, however, came in after a bye week and a long spell of inactivity because of a scheduling quirk that meant it had only practiced in pads once in 23 days.
Leading into Sunday’s game, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Kevin Lynch, in writing about what to look for in the game, cautioned that Freddy P. Soft – Harbaugh’s imaginary character who gets into his players’ heads – could make an appearance.
“Looking at the 49ers’ schedule,” he wrote, “this game is the prime candidate for the 49ers to play their worst game of the season.”
And that’s how it played out, from St. Louis opening a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, to Akers’ missed kick in overtime.
The Niners just weren’t sharp.
Now, San Francisco will get another extra day this week – but perhaps one it can use for Smith to heal – as the Niners end a string of three straight games against the NFC West and take on the Bears on “Monday Night Football” on Nov. 19.