SAN FRANCISCO — Win or lose, the 49ers usually leave the field thinking they've given their best efforts.
But a tie? That's uncharted territory for most of these guys.
"First time ever," veteran center Jonathan Goodwin said after the Niners' 24-24 deadlock against the visiting St. Louis Rams. "Baseball as a kid, anything, I don't remember finishing a game tied. It almost felt basically like we got a practice."
The 49ers need some more of that after this five-quarter, 3-hour, 50-minute rumble. They fell behind by two touchdowns practically before the fans were in their seats, surrendered not one but two first downs on fake punts and very nearly got torched for a game-winning touchdown by the Rams in overtime.
And there are even larger issues. Starting quarterback Alex Smith left the game with a concussion midway through the second quarter. He injured himself diving for a first down on fourth-and-1 at the St. Louis 48-yard line, and finished the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree before admitting to coaches that his vision was blurred.
It was Smith's second concussion in two years. He sustained one against Dallas in Week 2 last season, but played the following week at Cincinnati. With the aggressive Chicago Bears' defense looming next Monday night, the 49ers are hoping Smith can make another fast recovery.
Second-year backup Colin Kaepernick took Smith's place in the huddle and mostly performed well, erasing the 14-7 deficit he inherited and leading to 49ers to three fourth-quarter scores.
"If I had to rate Colin, I'd give him a B-plus," tight end Vernon Davis said. "I think he went out there and he did a spectacular job, just taking over for Alex. He made plays. I mean, he was on it. He was cued in. He was focused. And he wanted to help this team win."
After all that, it looked like St. Louis had stolen a victory when Sam Bradford and wide receiver Danny Amendola connected on an 80-yard pass play on the first play of overtime, beating Carlos Rogers down the right sideline. Safety Donte Whitner pushed Amendola out at the 2-yard line, but as the Rams celebrated their opportunity, a flag came down near the line of scrimmage.
Officials hit St. Louis with an illegal-formation penalty, explaining to coach Jeff Fisher later that a wide receiver was off the line, leaving left tackle Rodger Saffold "uncovered."
The 49ers had a chance of their own at 8:14 of the extra period, but David Akers, the team's trusted placekicker, pushed a 41-yard field-goal attempt just wide of the left crossbar. And with 2:35 left, Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein knocked a 53-yard try down the middle, only to see it negated by a delay of game penalty. He missed from 58 yards on the next snap.
The game devolved into a slog thereafter, neither offense able to break through. It ended with a whimper, Bradford connecting with Brandon Gibson for a meaningless 24-yard gain as the clock went to zeroes, giving the Niners their first tie since a 10-10 result at Atlanta on Oct. 19, 1986.