Rams vs. 49ers: L.A. looks to break regular-season losing streak to San Francisco

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) fights off a blocker during an NFL football game.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the Rams look to break a seven-game, regular-season losing streak to the 49ers on Sunday in a key NFC West showdown at SoFi Stadium. (Scot Tucker / Associated Press)

The tackle was more WWE than NFL.

Two weeks ago, Rams linebacker Ernest Jones wrapped his arms around then-Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, lifted him and then threw him to the turf suplex-style.

Rams players said the tempo-setting play helped propel them to a victory that evened their record at 3-3 going into last week’s open date.

The Rams — and McCaffrey — return to SoFi Stadium on Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers and their legion of fans arrive for a key NFC West game.

The 49ers last week outbid the Rams in a trade for McCaffrey.

Jones is looking forward to making more tone-setting plays as the Rams attempt to end a seven-game streak of regular-season futility against the 49ers, including a 24-9 beatdown at Levi’s Stadium on “Monday Night Football” this month.

Jones said McCaffrey “got me back” at the end of the Rams’ victory over the Panthers “with a little stiff arm” move.

“I remember that,” Jones said, “so I’m sure he remembers what I did to him.

“He’s one of the top five running backs that I’ve played [against]. His vision, the way he’s able to just keep going at his size — it’s crazy. It’s amazing.”

McCaffrey joined a 49ers offense that usually features versatile star running back/receiver Deebo Samuel, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk among others.

With Samuel sidelined because of a hamstring injury and Juszczyk out because of a broken finger, McCaffrey could play a more prominent role than anticipated for a 49ers team that is 3-4 after a 44-23 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

The 49ers also will be without injured defensive lineman Arik Armstead and linebacker Dre Greenlaw.

That could help the Rams in their quest to beat the 49ers in a regular-season game for the first time since 2018.

Rams coach Sean McVay ended a six-game losing streak against 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan — his friend and mentor — when the Rams defeated the 49ers in January in the NFC championship game at SoFi Stadium.

The Rams won that game because they played “complimentary football in key moments,” star cornerback Jalen Ramsey said.

“You just never know which moment will swing the momentum or which moment will be key for whichever team that wins the game,” Ramsey said, adding that in regular-season games against the 49ers the Rams “have not done good enough in key moments and played complimentary football in a lot of those key moments.”

After weathering multiple injuries, the Rams will welcome back center Brian Allen, receiver Van Jefferson and cornerbacks Troy Hill and Cobie Durant.

The Rams’ 3-3 start equals their record at the same point in 2019, the only season they missed the playoffs under McVay.

It has been a surprising season in the NFC. The New York Giants are 6-1, the Philadelphia Eagles 6-0 and the Minnesota Vikings 5-1. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 3-5, with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers 3-4.

McVay sounded optimistic about the Rams outlook.

“Teams that are relevant play better as the season goes on and that's where our focus and concentration is,” McVay said, adding, “It's a strange year in terms of some of the different things that are going on, but usually those things have a way of balancing themselves out, and I think we'll have a lot more clarity as this thing continues to progress.”

To make a run to the playoffs, the Rams need quarterback Matthew Stafford to avoid turnovers that have plagued him against the 49ers. In three regular-season losses and the postseason victory, Stafford has passed for six touchdowns with six interceptions, two that were returned for touchdowns.

In the Oct. 3 loss, 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga returned an interception for a touchdown.

“It's kind of the age-old stuff in football,” Stafford said when asked what he had to do for the Rams to beat the 49ers in the regular season, “Don't turn the ball over, stay efficient on first and second down, convert it on third down, when we get our chances in the red zone, hit them and score points.

“Got to play a complete game, got to play solid, and give yourself a chance.”

On Sunday, 49ers fans are expected to again make themselves heard at SoFi Stadium. The Rams offense anticipates operating again with a silent count.

“That’s what history says — you prepare for whatever it’s going to be,” receiver Cooper Kupp said. “And understand you just got to go out there and play ball.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.