Rams set up winner-take-all showdown
St. Louis, Seattle will play for NFC West crown
ST. LOUIS — While Mike Singletary and Troy Smith squabbled on the sideline, rookie Sam Bradford stayed veteran calm.
The No. 1 overall draft pick helped keep the St. Louis Rams’ playoff drive motoring along, also breaking Peyton Manning’s NFL rookie record for completions in a 25-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Eclipsing Manning’s 12-year-old mark was nice. Helping the Rams (7-8) stay on track to end a five-year playoff drought in a winner-take-all game for the NFC West title next week was a much bigger deal.
“I guess it’s pretty cool,” Bradford said of the record. “I’m all fired up about the win. If you don’t get excited for a game like this, you’re probably in the wrong business.”
The Seahawks (6-9) have lost seven of nine after falling 38-15 at Tampa Bay. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck left with a hip injury in the first quarter.
But they still could become the first team to win a division with a losing record. With a victory, Seattle would take the West based on a better division record. St. Louis snapped a 10-game losing streak in the series with a 20-3 victory in early October.
“Here we are, going into our last regular-season game, and we control our own destiny,” Bradford said before the Seahawks game.
The Rams’ defense kept both of the Smiths on the run, sacking Troy Smith and Alex Smith two times apiece. Singletary gave Troy Smith one more series after a heated exchange late in the third quarter, then benched him after the 49ers (5-10) went three-and-out on their first possession of the fourth quarter.
The 49ers were eliminated from playoff consideration, and haven’t made it to the postseason since 2002.
“Troy’s a passionate guy and the way he responded, that’s fine,” Singletary said. “He’s frustrated, I’m frustrated.
“We’re both trying to get something to happen on the field. That’s all it was.”
The 49ers’ locker room was closed for about 20 minutes after the game before Singletary emerged, saying he had no regrets about his quarterback choice.
“As the head coach, the most important quality for me is to be able to make a decision and be able to live or die with it,” Singletary said. “And not to turn around and blame it on somebody else.”
Singletary is 18-22 with two years to go on a four-year contract and wasn’t sure if he’d be back, saying “I don’t know, that’s not my decision.”
The Rams finished 5-3 at home, the franchise’s first winning record since 2004. They were 2-22 combined the previous three seasons.
The 49ers were 1-7 on the road, where they were outscored 200-117. They appeared to sag after missing a chance to take a 17-15 lead late in the third quarter when Jeff Reed shanked a 34-yard field goal attempt.
Troy Smith passed for 356 yards in the 49ers’ overtime victory over the Rams last month, but did not play the last two games.
“I wouldn’t say there was a lot of differences, but you’ve got to give St. Louis credit,” Smith said. “Defensively, they do a lot of things to put the quarterback and team in a not-so-comfortable situation.”
James Hall had 11/2 sacks for a defense that totaled four, including a safety in the first quarter when Troy Smith fumbled a poor shotgun snap in the end zone. Troy Smith was 2 for 3 for 85 yards on a second-quarter drive capped by a 60-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree, but was only 7 for 19 for 153 yards when Alex Smith replaced him midway through the fourth quarter.
Bradford broke out of a three-game slump of no touchdown passes and five interceptions. He was 16 for 20 for 168 yards the second half, including a 3-yard pass to Laurent Robinson that made it 22-14 with 9:36 to go, and finished 28 for 37 for 292 yards with no interceptions.
The 49ers stuffed the run, limiting Steven Jackson to 48 yards on 24 carries.
Bradford has 335 completions, topping Manning’s record of 326 in 1998. He passed Chris Weinke for second in rookie attempts with 554, needing 22 next week to eclipse Manning.
The Rams scored on their first drive for only the second time, benefiting from an interference call on Nate Clements, with Jackson scoring from the 1 on the next play.
Josh Brown kicked three field goals for St. Louis, giving him 11 the last three games, and has matched his career season best with 31.
The 49ers led 14-12 at the half even though they totaled three first downs and 82 yards in penalties.
Ginn was untouched on the punt return for the 49ers’ first score in the second quarter. San Francisco had no return yards on 10 punts by Donnie Jones in the first meeting Nov. 14 in San Francisco.
St. Louis went up 9-0 late in the first quarter on the safety, but then went three-and-out on three straight series while the 49ers caught their stride.
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