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Niners make it a season sweep of Rams

ST. LOUIS (Dec. 24, 2005) -- So who needs Reggie Bush? The San Francisco 49ers got a pair of big runs from backups in a victory over the St. Louis Rams.

Frank Gore scored the deciding touchdown on a 30-yard run with 4:05 to go and seldom-used Maurice Hicks scored untouched on a 73-yarder on the game's first snap in a 24-20 comeback victory over the sagging Rams. The combination of Hicks and Gore helped the 49ers rush for 217 yards without injured Kevan Barlow.

"It shows the heart of a 3-12 team," Gore said. "I think any other team would have laid down."

The 49ers ended a seven-game losing streak after entering the day tied for the fewest victories in the NFL. But they swept the Rams (5-10) for the first time since 1998, also beating them 28-25 in the opener.

They also fell behind of the Houston Texans (2-13) in the "race" for the first overall draft pick, presumably for Heisman Trophy winner Bush if the junior tailback leaves Southern Cal.

"The fans will talk about it," coach Mike Nolan said. "But I certainly don't talk about it."

Jamie Martin threw for a career-best 354 yards against a decimated 49ers secondary and the Rams led 20-7 late in the first half. They were mistake-prone the rest of the way, losing for the sixth time in seven games overall and their fourth straight time at home.

At 3-5, they finished with their first losing record at home since 1998. That's also the last time they lost at home to the 49ers.

"I feel like we embarrassed the city of St. Louis," wide receiver Isaac Bruce said. "Today wasn't a good day for us."

The game might have been the home finale for Marshall Faulk, who's been used sparingly this season. The team showed a highlight montage at the end of the game.

Faulk said he was undecided whether to retire, but it also might not be his decision. He caught nine passes for 44 yards and had three carries for 5 yards.

"This is a business and you've got to understand that," Faulk said. "I always speak in business terms in this game and I learned that when I was young."

The 49ers won even though rookie Alex Smith, this year's first overall draft pick, still doesn't have a touchdown pass. Smith was 12 of 16 for 131 yards.

"I don't think I would have gotten here if I hadn't won games in the past," Smith said. "That's how quarterbacks are ultimately evaluated."

Mostly, though, San Francisco counted on the two big gains and some misplays by the Rams.

"When you run the ball like that," Smith said, "it makes it easy."

Hicks broke free on a simple off-tackle play to open the game and finished with 109 yards on 10 carries. He entered the game with only 135 yards all season. Gore, who also scored on a 10-yarder in the second quarter, appeared to be jammed up the middle before a cutback left clear sailing on the clinching score.

The Rams twice had the ball deep in San Francisco territory in the fourth quarter, but came up empty. Shawntae Spencer intercepted Martin's pass in the end zone on the first play of the quarter, and Steven Jackson was stopped for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the 49ers 22 with 9:11 to go.

St. Louis also drove to the 31 at the finish before Ben Emanuel intercepted a tipped pass.

"It's definitely disappointing when you go and give your all, and don't quite get there," Martin said. "I just needed to make a few more plays to get us over the hump."

The Rams wasted big games from Torry Holt, who caught 10 passes for 163 yards and a 40-yard score, and Jeff Wilkins, who kicked a pair of 50-plus-yard field goals.

Martin was 14 of 18 for 178 yards in the first half. Wilkins had field goals of 50 and 51 yards, making him 4 for 4 from beyond the 50 this season.

Joe Nedney added a career-best 56-yard field goal on the last play of the half after some questionable strategy by the Rams, whose obvious lack of urgency made it clear they weren't interested in mounting a final drive. That prompted the 49ers to use their timeouts to get the ball back.

Notes: 49ers CB Bruce Thornton was carted off with a knee sprain and his backup, Derrick Johnson, had a stinger that Nolan said would leave him questionable for the season finale. ... Holt has 54 touchdowns, breaking a tie with Elroy Hirsch for second place on the franchise list. He had 104 yards receiving by halftime, his 39th career 100-yard game and 54th of his career. ... Wilkins also made four field goals from the 50 and beyond in 2003 and '04. ... Nedney's previous career best was 53 yards on Sept. 15, 2002 against the Cowboys.

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