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Lowell Cohn: Left for dead, depleted 49ers show signs of life

  • San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin dives into the end zone to score on 20-yard touchdown reception as St. Louis Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan defends during the second quarter of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, in St. Louis. (CHRIS LEE / St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

ST. LOUIS -- The 49ers'season was spinning down the drain with that gurgling sucking sound. If they lost to the St. Louis Rams, their season would be over, kaput after just four games.

Everything depended on winning, and that's exactly what the 49ers did. They beat the Rams 35-11 in the Rams' place, a loud building with the sound as insane as that madhouse in Seattle.

The 49ers won despite being so player-depleted it was ridiculous. They didn't have pass rusher Aldon Smith — you know that troubling story. They didn't have Patrick Willis because of a groin pull, and they didn't have Nnamdi Asomugha.

San Francisco 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams

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They still played great defense, everything you want from a defense with a reputation for being tough and smart and relentless and just plain dominating. These surely were the 49ers. They had been in hibernation the previous two games. Coach Jim Harbaugh, who seemed to enjoy the problems leading up to this game, got his team ready despite incredible handicaps, got his team to play like the 49ers.

Notable was a play by safety Donte Whitner that displayed 49ers' pride, honor, dignity. With the Rams driving late in the second quarter, the 49ers leading by a delicate four points, Whitner intercepted a pass from Sam Bradford at the goal line and fell into the end zone and killed the drive, killed the Rams' chance and gave the ball to the 49ers.

And the Niners took the ball Whitner gave them and drove for a touchdown. It was a statement interception and a statement score.

Here is Whitner on the interception: “I was in the middle of the field and saw the front shoulder dip from Bradford. It meant he was going for a deep ball. I was thinking, 'This is going to be a tipped ball right to me (from Tramaine Brock).' It actually happened. I wanted to get my arms around it and squeeze it as tight as I can and come down in bounds. It was a huge momentum swing for our football team.”

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