Roman Gabriel (see cover), toweling himself as he talked to a knot of reporters, was having a hard time concealing his immense delight. "Our offense finally started to work today," he said. "It was a beautiful thing they did. No mistakes, except for Alvin Haymond's fumble on a kickoff, and no interceptions. We ran into lots of tough luck and we kept on coming back and coming back. I can't ever remember having back-to-back offside penalties the way we did when we had the touchdown called back."
These mishaps occurred in the first half, and they might have broken a less determined team. The 49ers were ahead 6-0, but Gabriel had brought the Rams down to the San Francisco 36-yard line on a smartly run drive. Then he completed a 23-yard pass to Tight End Billy Truax, but the play was called back for the first offside penalty. On the next play Gabriel threw a 41-yard pass to Wide Receiver Jack Snow in the end zone, but that play, too, was nullified.
"It was Truax offsides both times," Gabriel said. "He must have been lining up offsides. Then, in the second half, I've got him wide open in the end zone and miss him."
This happened in the third quarter, with the Rams operating from the San Francisco 15. It was a play-action pass, and Mel Phillips, the strong safety who should have been covering Truax, bought the run fake, leaving Truax all alone in the end zone. Gabriel overthrew him by yards.
"Billy told me he'd be open on the play," Gabriel said. "It's what we call a straight and up. He gave the safety a little head fake to the inside and broke to the outside, and I couldn't believe how open he was. In a situation like that, sometimes you try to lift the ball to the receiver instead of drilling it, and I lifted it clear up into the third row of the bleachers."
The first time the Rams gained possession of the ball in the second half, Gabriel marched them 56 yards for a touchdown, the drive being sustained by Ellison's runs. "We felt at the half we could hit them pretty good with inside running," Gabriel said. "We figured they might think we'd put the ball in the air right away, since we were behind 13-6. It worked. I think we're starting to make our way back now. And we're doing it at just the right lime. I'm still not playing as well as I can. There are a lot of reasons for that. We've had so many people out at one time or another with injuries, and we've had fumbles and interceptions because we were going with different people all the time, but now we're beginning to do everything right. I think we'll go all the way now. For two weeks in a row we've come from behind and won, and now we know we can do it. This game had to give us the lift we've needed."
Jones was nearly dressed by now and the team was slowly deserting the dressing room to board the buses that would take them to the airport. "This is the best way to do it." Jones said. "Sometimes, in the past, we've tuckered out at the end of the season, but this year we're catching fire. We're going to keep getting better and better. We caught fire at just the right time."
Someone in the back of the dressing room yelled "Only six more wins" and Deacon grinned hugely. "Hey," he said softly, "six more. That takes us right through the Super Bowl, don't it?"
The Rams play New Orleans and Detroit at home in the next two weeks, then close their season with the Giants in New York. Of those three opponents only Detroit figures to give them any trouble. The 49ers play the Atlanta Falcons in San Francisco next Sunday, then finish on the road against the Saints and the Oakland Raiders. There is very little to choose in the schedules, but Oakland would seem to be a stronger opponent than New York, especially in view of the rivalry between the Raiders and the 49ers, and Atlanta could give San Francisco a difficult game if the 49ers let down after this disheartening defeat.
Diron Talbert, who, with Olsen, applied pressure from the inside on Brodie, wasn't worried about future opponents. "Hell, it don't make no never mind," he said. "Now we got it. We been chasing all year, and we ain't about to start chasing again. All we got to do to be sure is win three ball games, and I reckon we can do that."