Talanoa Hufanga’s pick six helps 49ers defeat Rams

Another Hollywood remake – the San Francisco 49ers won again – but this time it was a different lead who defeated the Rams.

Sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga stepped in front of a screen pass to Cooper Kupp, pulled down the interception and rushed 52 yards for a touchdown.

Well, maybe he wasn’t driving.

“Thought [Matthew] Stafford wanted to get me, I won’t lie,” Hufanga said, only half-jokingly. “My 40 years don’t help there.”

In truth, the former USC star didn’t look lumbering, but for the Rams, who have now lost four straight games at Levi’s Stadium, it must have all been unfolding like a slow-motion nightmare.

This time, the Rams were only able to concede three field goals in a 24-9 loss, underscoring the idea that their offense is mired in mud.

Hufanga’s touchdown, which came with 6½ minutes left, turned a one-score game into something closer to a blowout.

He’s trained with Hall of Fame security guard Troy Polamalu and people have drawn some comparisons between the two, despite the huge chasms to be filled. They both speak softly, both have flowing curls, both know what it means to move around a defense. And on Monday night, Hufanga performed a Polamalu-like game.

The ball popped in his hands for a moment before digging in his fingers.

“Honestly, I think I read it almost too quickly,” Hufanga said. “I think maybe I should have been a little more patient and secured the catch.”

Even before the snap, Hufanga had a feel for where the ball was going.

San Francisco 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga returns an interception for a touchdown.

San Francisco 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga returns an interception for a touchdown against the Rams Monday in the fourth quarter.

(Godofredo A. Vasquez / Associated Press)

“You can smell a rat in things like that,” he said. “Just sort of very quickly into the apartment, they tried to get the ball to Kupp all night. They were trying to get on track, trying to get things going. Boys just raved.”

He slid across the goal line and raised his hands in a shrug as if to say, “Well, that was easy.” Then he hopped across the back of the end zone in jubilation.

“Huff, he of all people deserved it, man,” said teammate Fred Warner. “He’s going crazy. That was a huge, big piece in a big moment.”

Shouldn’t those 49ers circle the drain? They had lost two of their first three games and twice had a paltry 10 points in losses to Chicago and Denver. They already had their second quarterback and their third left tackle.

And as usual, the Rams were the cure.

Kyle Shanahan and his players go into these games knowing that if they play the way they can, they will win.

The Rams won the most important of their matchups with San Francisco last season — the NFC Championship Game — but that was after the 49ers defeated them in the regular season. And those same 49ers were swept by Seattle and Arizona. There’s no denying the psychological advantage they have over their NFC West rivals in the South.

Like last season, the Rams were deconstructed by receiver Deebo Samuel. Late in the second quarter, Jimmy Garoppolo threw a high pass to Samuel, who snatched the ball away as an intercept-seeking Derion Kendrick sailed past him in the opposite direction. Then Samuel jab-stepped two other defenders, beating them all to the end zone for a 57-yard touchdown.

“Every time I get the ball in my hands, it’s just my mentality to try and make a big game out of it,” Samuel said. “It’s now second nature to me.”

For the 49ers, this was simply the world falling back on its own axis.

“We felt we could easily be 3-0 up,” said defender Arik Armstead. “Our record didn’t show that. Each time you play in your division counts as two. So that’s definitely a big win and we’re back where we want to be.”

Said Hufanga, “We knew this was going to be an ice pack game. I had never heard that word until I came here. Honestly, I love that word because it’s cool. But every time we play these guys, it’s a physical game.”

Once again, the Rams were left out in the rain.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/rams/story/2022-10-03/talanoa-hufanga-interception-return-rams-49ers Talanoa Hufanga’s pick six helps 49ers defeat Rams

Emma Bowman

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