Thursday Night Football Grades: Week 3 (Rams at 49ers)

Jared Goff throwing a pass against the 49ers. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

Unable to stay awake for the entirety of Thursday Night Football? Watching the highlights is a great start to getting caught up, but they rarely paint the entire picture. Good news: we’ll be offering in-depth analysis of each Thursday Night Football matchup, including grades for the noteworthy players from the game.

Los Angeles Rams over San Francisco 49ers:
41-39

Generally, dozing off before the start of the fourth quarter of any Thursday Night Football (TNF) game is harmless. But if you did so last night, you may have developed a serious case of FOMO today. Last night’s tilt between the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers was the greatest non-season-opening football game ever played on a Thursday night.

Not only was it the highest-scoring game ever in the 11-year history of TNF, but the outcome wasn’t decided until the final whistle blew. The 49ers scored two touchdowns in the final 5:10 and had a chance to even the score at 41 with a two-point conversion. After failing to convert, the 49ers were forced to attempt an onside kick with only 2:13 left on the clock. San Francisco executed the onside kick perfectly and recovered the ball with a chance to get into field-goal range to win the game. However, the Rams’ defense rose to the occasion and made a stand, sacking Brian Hoyer on fourth-and-long to hand the ball back to the offense, which killed the remaining 1:44.

For those who did miss the game, this is not a joke. The Rams and 49ers actually provided us with a Thursday night thriller. Here’s how the game’s most noteworthy players graded out.

Los Angeles Rams

Jared Goff: A

This is the same QB who posted a horrendous 63.6 passer rating in 2016 …

The transformation Goff has undergone with new head coach Sean McVay is nothing short of incredible. The complete 180 continued last night, as Goff completed 22/28 passes for 292 yards and three TDs, good for a 145.8 passer rating.

The former first-overall pick was flawless in the red zone, completing all seven pass attempts, three of which went for TDs. He was also great when pushing the ball down the field, completing three of four passes thrown 20 yards or more, per PFF.

There really wasn’t much to dislike about Goff’s Week 3 performance. If we are going to get really picky, he has some room for improvement when under pressure. But overall, it was a great showing from the 22-year-old and a very promising sign for the Rams.

Todd Gurley: B+

The former first-round pick totaled 149 yards from scrimmage and scored three TDs last night. Gurley showed the explosiveness we saw from him as a rookie in 2015, and continues to prove he can be a weapon in the passing game.

Gurley would be the first to tell you that his game could have been better, though. Two of his touchdowns came within three yards of the endzone, and he failed to punch another one in with two attempts from San Francisco’s two-yard line.

Sammy Watkins: B

For the first time as a Ram, Sammy Watkins showcased the explosiveness that made him the fourth-overall pick in the 2014 draft. Watkins hauled in six of his seven targets for 106 yards and two TDs. The most notable came early in the third quarter when Jared Goff laid a ball out along the sideline and Watkins was able to make an adjustment to look directly over his head (Willie Mays style) for a 47-yard completion. (See the video above.)

Watkins only played 66-percent of the Rams’ offensive snaps, though, and ended up leaving the game after scoring his second TD to be evaluated for a concussion. Week 3 was a big step in the right direction for Watkins in his new offense, but he has to stay on the field to continue progressing.

Sean McVay: A

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Sean McVay should win NFL Coach of the Year solely for the magic act he’s pulled with Jared Goff. Under Jeff Fisher in 2016, this Rams offense averaged a league-worst 14 PPG. It has taken McVay just one offseason to turn the Rams’ offense into a fear-inducing unit. At this point, no team averages more PPG than McVay’s Rams and Jared Goff’s passer rating is 54.6 points higher than in 2016.

Credit McVay for not being stubborn or overly aggressive on offense, as well. After the Rams were stuffed twice from inside the two, McVay suppressed the urge to go for it on fourth-and-goal, sending out the field-goal team and taking the safe three points, extending their lead to 27-13. It was a very mature move by the youngest head coach in modern NFL history.

Rams Return Teams: D-

Tavon Austin and Pharoh Cooper each fumbled away a punt/kick return, providing the 49ers with some life. Austin’s came after he had signaled for a fair-catch in the second quarter, and gave the 49ers the ball at the Rams’ 12-yard-line. San Francisco only managed a field goal out of it, but it brought them within a TD.

Cooper coughed up the ball on a kick return late in the fourth quarter, after San Francisco had just scored to make it a one-possession game. Had Cooper held onto the ball, the Rams would have avoided all the late-game drama.

It wasn’t just the returners making costly mistakes, though, as Blake Countess jumped offside when the 49ers were punting the ball on their first possession. The penalty resulted in a first down, and San Francisco would take advantage, punching it in for a TD to tie the game.

Rams’ Betting Outlook

I already said it after Week 1: you need to strongly consider sprinkling some money on the Rams to win the NFC West. You can get them at +650 on Bet365, with the Seahawks listed at -275 and the Cardinals at +350. Neither Seattle nor Arizona can keep their QBs upright, and it’s going to be a major issue when they have to play these Rams.

San Francisco 49ers

Brian Hoyer: B

If you remove Hoyer’s first throw of the game, which was picked off by Nickell Robey-Coleman and nearly taken for six, the pivot would have been 23/36 for 332 yards and two TDs. And then if you remove the five passes that were blatantly dropped by Hoyer’s receivers, he would have posted a 130.0 passer rating in last night’s game.

Hoyer continued to get better as the game progressed, and made a few elite throws late in the game to get Rams fans sweating a little. The 31-year-old journeyman finally showed he is capable of running Kyle Shanahan’s offense

Pierre Garcon: A-

The box score will tell you Pierre Garcon had a great game for the 49ers last night — seven receptions for 142 yards — but it doesn’t reveal these two spectacular catches the 31-year-old made.

Garcon proved again last night that he’s one of the most underrated players in the league.

Kyle Shanahan: B

There were times that Shanahan’s creativity may have worked against the 49er offense, but the bottom line is he pulled 39 points out of a Brian Hoyer-led offense facing a Wade Phillips-coached defense. Enough said.

Robbie Gould: C+

The veteran kicker nailed both of his field goal attempts (36 and 48 yards) and executed a near-perfect onside kick with 2:13 remaining in the game, giving the 49ers a chance to get in field-goal range and win the game. However, had he not missed an extra-point earlier in the fourth quarter, the 49ers would not have needed a two-point conversion to tie the game.

49ers’ Betting Outlook

The 49ers are about to hit the road for three straight games. They start with Arizona next week, followed by trips to Indianapolis and Washington. Keep your eyes on the line in the game against the Cardinals. If Arizona is favored by more than one score, a 49er cover wouldn’t be a bad play. Arizona’s offensive line holds up as well as parchment paper, and the 49ers defense has some stars up front.

The 49ers’ odds to win the NFC West are rightfully plummeting (now down to +10000). There’s no value in betting San Francisco in any NFL Futures, other than maybe odds to grab the first-overall pick. If Hoyer can’t record any wins in the next three weeks, don’t be surprised if Kyle Shanahan starts preparing CJ Beathard to finish the season under center.