The 49ers wrapped up the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC and a first-round bye with a closer than expected 34-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. The Rams, offensively challenged all season, made it interesting with 17 points in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns in a span of 13 seconds.
Tarell Brown had a pair of interceptions that led to touchdowns, but had a late interference call in the end zone to set up a 1-yard run by Cadillac Williams that cut the deficit to seven.
"Give credit where it's due, they made plays when they needed them," Willis said. "We had enough good plays to win and that's all that matters."
"We needed it, we needed it really bad, we needed it very bad," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "You plug in whatever you want, OK?"
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo fell to 10-38 over three seasons and may have coached his last game, but appeared optimistic. Owner Stan Kroenke did not attend the finale of a season that was a total bust, accelerated by injuries in the second half, after the franchise made a six-win improvement last season.
"Obviously, the results are not what we wanted. There were some things we couldn't control, other things we could," Spagnuolo said. "We certainly think we should be better than 2-14, but I do think there was tremendous growth.
"You grow more in a situation like this than you do when it's all going easy."
The 49ers made a seven-win improvement and their record is their best since another 13-win season in 1997 under another rookie coach, Steve Mariucci.
Crabtree fooled defenders on Akers' first career touchdown pass, pretending to leave the field but stopping just shy of the sideline. He was not covered on an easy 13-yard score that made it 27-10 late in the third quarter.
"You've got to not give it away and back up and make it look like we're going to attempt the kick," Akers said. "I looked over and Crab was wide open, and it was like `Oh my."'
Akers broke the NFL single-season field goal record last week and finished with 44, including five in the first half of the two St. Louis meetings. He missed on a 48-yarder, but clicked from 36 and 42 yards.
The Rams closed the gap quickly on Brandon Lloyd's 36-yard touchdown catch, a successful on-side kick and Williams' scoring run with 4:39 to go one play after Brown interfered with Lloyd.
Notes: Missouri's Gary Pinkel, who coached the 49ers' Aldon Smith and the Rams' Danario Alexander, was on the sideline before the game. ... 49ers FB Bruce Miller (left knee) was sidelined in the second quarter, but was in uniform testing it with sprints before halftime. ... Clemens said X-rays were negative.