INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams' losing streak in their biggest rivalry is getting awkward now.
Sean McVay doesn't like to talk about it. Neither does Kyle Shanahan, even though it's his 49ers on the winning side.
San Francisco has eight consecutive regular-season victories over the Rams, who host the Niners again on Sunday in a meeting of 1-0 teams.
Even if those defeats all pale in importance to Los Angeles’ narrow 20-17 win over San Francisco in the NFC championship game in January 2022, four years of rivalry losses to a good friend's team are an obvious — if unacknowledged — thorn in McVay's side.
“I think the biggest thing is they’ve been a great team,” McVay said. “It’s been challenging, and we’re going to do our best to come away with the result we’re hunting up. ... The previous games — every single week is a new entity. Every single year is a new year. One thing that hasn’t changed is they’re a great team again, and we’ve got a great challenge.”
The Niners actually weren't a great team in 2020, but two of their six wins came against Los Angeles. They made the NFC title game in the other three seasons during the streak, beating the Rams twice each season.
The Rams don't appear to be a great team this season around Aaron Donald and Matthew Stafford, but they're off to a strong start with a road victory over Seattle. Los Angeles' young, largely untested roster faces a formidable test from San Francisco's Super Bowl contenders.
“We have such a history, with the coaching staffs being similar for so long and the players being similar for so long,” Shanahan said. "Once you turn on the tape, yeah, you don’t know some of the guys. But you definitely know 99, and you know the quarterback, and then you watch the schemes and nothing’s really different.”
The most recent time the 49ers lost a regular-season game to the Rams, Brock Purdy had lost the Alamo Bowl two days earlier as Iowa State's freshman quarterback.
Nearly five years later, Donald and the Rams get their first up-close look at Purdy, the seventh-round pick who seized control of the 49ers’ offense as a rookie late last season.
Purdy hasn’t slowed down this season, passing for 220 yards and two TDs last week to beat Pittsburgh. He's hoping to follow in the rivalry footsteps of Jimmy Garoppolo, who went 8-0 as a regular-season starter for San Francisco against the Rams, by leading yet another dominant performance from the Niners' talent-laden offense against Los Angeles' inexperienced defense.
“Kyle is as good as it gets in terms of being able to put all their different playmakers in the right spots, and then they’ve got the personnel to make it come to life,” McVay said.
Much of the focus for defenses trying to slow down the 49ers offense is on recent All-Pro skill players such as Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.
Receiver Brandon Aiyuk is showing he warrants plenty of attention, too: He built on his first 1,000-yard season in 2022 with a strong opener, catching all eight of his targets for 129 yards and two TDs against Pittsburgh.
“The coolest thing about B.A. is how ready he came to play,” Shanahan said.
The 49ers' secondary must defend two unlikely new threats for Los Angeles. The injury absence of Cooper Kupp created opportunities for receivers Tutu Atwell and Puka Nacua, and both seized them in Seattle with a pair of 119-yard performances. Nacua caught 10 passes in a physical NFL debut, while Atwell used his speed to hurt the Seahawks repeatedly in the most productive game of his three-year career.
Purdy is 6-0 in the regular season as a starter, throwing at least two TD passes and earning a QB rating of at least 95 each time out. If he does both again Sunday, he'll join Billy Volek as the only quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era with at least two TD passes in each of their first seven starts. He could also become the first QB with a 95 passer rating in all seven starts to begin a career.
NEW LINE CINEMA
The Rams' offensive line was quietly the star of their season-opening win, allowing no sacks and only a few significant pressures on Stafford. Aside from impressive rookie guard Steve Avila, the line is comprised of the same group that had a rough 2022 season. Nick Bosa and Drake Jackson — a USC product and Southern California native — will lead the 49ers' attempt to tear the Rams' line back down to size.
Jackson looked like a different player than a year ago in the opener. Jackson wore down as a rookie and was a healthy scratch at the end of the season, leading to an increased offseason focus on bulking up to handle the rigors of the NFL. That hard work paid off with three sacks last week against Pittsburgh, matching his total from his entire rookie season.
“I hope it showed,” Jackson said of the offseason work. “I just do what I can. More of that to come, hopefully.”
AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.
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Greg Beacham, The Associated Press