By Bill Coats

SAN FRANCISCO With the Rams struggling to hold off the rallying ***** in the final minutes Sunday, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa found himself one-on-one with dangerous tight end Vernon Davis in a race to the goal line.

As Trent Dilfer's pass approached, Tinoisamoa noticed that Davis' eyes "got bigger, and I was thinking, 'Uh-oh.' I knew I was the only one on him, and I was like, 'Well, I'm going to try to turn and swing my arms, and hopefully I get the ball out.'"

Good plan. Tinoisamoa broke up the play, preserving the Rams' 13-9 victory.

"It was a huge play," he said. "We knew we could win if we didn't let them score a touchdown. I didn't want to be that guy to give it up, especially toward the end of the game."

PLAY OF THE DAY The Niners were at the Rams' 21-yard line with 3 seconds on the clock and one chance to wrest away the victory. Dilfer fired over the middle, aiming for wideout Darrell Jackson in the end zone. But safety Oshiomogho Atogwe was planted between them, and his leaping interception ended the threat.

"We were playing Cover 2, and (defensive coordinator Jim Haslett) told us to just defend the goal line," Atogwe explained. "I train myself that if the ball is in the air, it's mine. I was in position, and I just went up there and caught it."

Rams: Atogwe (nine tackles in the unofficial press box stats, plus game-ending pick).
*****: WR Arnaz Battle (six catches for 86 yards).

The Rams took a 13-3 lead on a 35-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins with 10 minutes remaining. The ensuing kickoff was low and squirted out of bounds, giving the ***** good field position at its 40-yard line.

A squib kick gone awry? Nope, just a foul ball, Wilkins acknowledged. "It was supposed to be kicked to the left corner," he said. "I was going into the wind a little bit and tried to overkick it and shanked it. Not a good kick."

The ***** closed to 13-9 on a field goal with 1:51 to go, then attempted an onside kick. Rams tight end Randy McMichael grabbed the bounding ball, fell to the ground and covered up. "When you get down there, you've got to protect yourself," he said, "because a lot of dirty things happen under that pile."

Defensive tackle Adam Carriker got considerable action at end, the position he played at Nebraska. "It was kind of weird. Every time I lined up out there, I felt like I was a mile away from the ball. But as soon as the ball is snapped, the instincts come back and you just react."

The NFL's top two punters, at least in terms of gross yardage, went leg-to-leg at Monster Park. The Rams' Donnie Jones and the Niners' Andy Lee each was averaging 50 yards per boot. Lee won the day, with an average of 47.8 yards (38.5 net) on eight kicks; Jones averaged 44.3 (33.3) on nine tries.

"We put ourselves in a deep hole, and now we're just trying to catapult ourselves out of it." Rams running back Steven Jackson.