Rams-Niners intriguing undercard match

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford looks to pass the ball against the New England Patriots during a...

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford looks to pass the ball against the New England Patriots during a preseason game in Foxborough, Massachusetts on August 26, 2010. (BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:43 AM ET

TORONTO - This Sunday’s list of games looks like a boxing program with a list of lesser, teaser bouts running through the day before the main event at night between New England and Pittsburgh.

The loser of that Clash of the Titans, however, should live on to fight another day and win or lose, both teams figure to march on and into the playoffs.

So, a closer inspection of the warm-up acts reveals a game that has more critical issues for both involved and that would be the St. Louis-San Francisco game in the late afternoon.

Okay, we’ll give you the fact that the winner of the NFC West will be of no account in the ultimate scheme of things but it’s a big deal for the improving Rams and a 49ers team that is in a state of flux and searching for answers.

At 4-4 the Rams are positively giddy with their record and the fact that they are tied for the lead in the mediocre division that is up for grabs. Totally.

After going a dismal 1-15 in 2009, the Rams were thought to have to take a long, slow route back towards respectability.

Instead, thanks to the solid play of rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, the Rams are now shooting one heck of a lot higher.

A division crown. Why not?

To date, the surprising Rams have posted a couple of shockers starting with their first win, a 30-16 victory over Washington.

However, the biggest W they have posted on the board is a 20-17 upset over the San Diego Chargers.

What is so important for the Rams this week in their game against the 49ers is the fact that they haven’t yet won on the road. In that regard they are 0-3 away from home and in the second half face five road contests.

Learning how to win on the road and learning how to close it out in the second half are the two next lessons they have to absorb.

“To have a big game, to learn how to win as the stakes get higher as the season goes by, it’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” running back Steven Jackson said this week. “We’ve been working hard to get to a point where in November and December, our games can put us in the postseason. Guys are starting to come together, and guys are excited.

“Hopefully we can keep ourselves in this position, but everything goes back to what we’ve always been taught around here — one week at a time, one game at a time. But if you continue to win, the stakes do get bigger.”

To overcome their road and second-half problems, Bradford thinks that the team just has to believe in itself, to keep the faith.

“I think we need to just be ourselves,” Bradford said. “I don’t think we have to try to do anything different, I don’t think we have to try to force anything. I think we just have to come out and be ourselves, and we’ve got to do it for a whole game.

“I think that’s been the problem. We came out against Tampa (Oct. 24) and played great the first half and then just shut down in the second half (in an 18-17 loss). If you want to win a football game in this league, you can’t do that.”

The 49ers, meanwhile, have a different set of issues.

An overwhelming pick to win the division, the 49ers opened 0-5 but after winning two of their past three, they still believe they have a shot to rally and win the division.

But not if they open the second half with a loss Sunday to the Rams.

San Francisco has been dogged by quarterback and coaching controversies as the Alex Smith and Mike Singletary eras could be coming to a rapid end.

This is the sixth season for Alex Smith who has never quite lived up to his billing and now due to injury he has lost his job to that other Smith fellow, Troy.

Troy Smith turned in a decent effort in his first start for San Francisco in London England two weeks back, leading the 49ers to a comeback win over a dreadful Denver team.

A solid outing against the Rams, a win, and the quarterback job is his for the rest of the season.

A poor performance by Troy Smith and a loss, though, would toss the job back into Alex Smith’s lap and have Singletary’s critics calling for ownership to do a Jerry Jones.

It can’t match the glamour of the Patriots-Steelers matchup for sure, but for the Rams and 49ers, Sunday marks a defining point of their respective seasons.


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