The dagger had been all but planted in the back of the Rams' offense Sunday as it lined up one more time on its own seven-yard line with six minutes left and nothing but the game on the line.
For quarterback Steve Bartkowski, who had turned the common center snap into creative art form, the San Francisco goal line might just as well have been 93 miles away instead of 93 yards.
Maybe the Rams could cheat and move the ball when no one was looking? How else would they get there?
But just when it got so bad that you started wondering when Dieter Brock was due back, Bartkowski shocked a sellout crowd of 65,195 at Anaheim Stadium by leading his team on a 92-yard drive in the final minutes, setting up an 18-yard field goal by Mike Lansford with two seconds left to give the Rams a 16-13 win over the 49ers.
It was the only way possible that Bartkowski and the Ram offense could have saved face in this one, as the Rams spent most of the afternoon moving laterally, watching the quarterback they couldn't use (Jeff Kemp) nearly beat them.
But that's not the way it worked out and, for another week, Ram Coach John Robinson can just smile, knowing that he dodged yet another round of incriminating questions about that thing he refers to as his offense.
Escaping also was Bartkowski, by way of the most important drive of his young Ram career.
Bartkowski was 5 for 21 for 91 yards in last week's opener and just 13 for 24 for 114 yards Sunday, but it would have been worse had he not completed 4 of 4 passes for 60 yards on the winning drive.
"Nothing was crisp, I don't know the reason," Bartkowski said. "There's a feeling you get when you have it. And when I get there, I'll let you know."
For one brief moment, though, Bartkowski did get it back.
With 6:10 remaining and the score tied, 13-13, the Rams found the ball at their own seven. At that point, they had totaled just 100 yards in offense, a number they would almost equal during the final drive.
On first down, Bartkowski threw 12 yards to Barry Redden in the left flat. Two plays later, it was 10 yards to David Hill, then 6 yards to Ron Brown. With two minutes left, the Rams had worked down to the 49er 35-yard line, taking more than four minutes off the clock in the process.
There, Bartkowski said he expected a 49er blitz and got it, leaving a soft spot in the secondary.
Bobby Duckworth ran a post over the middle and Bartkowski dropped the ball perfectly in his hands at the 49er 11.
Don Griffin, covering on the play, took a final swipe at Duckworth as the Ram stumbled forward after the catch and rolled into the end zone.
The Rams assumed a touchdown, but the play was whistled dead at the three-yard line, the officials claiming that Griffin had made contact with Duckworth.
Duckworth said later that he wasn't touched, but things couldn't have worked out better for the Rams.
Duckworth made the catch with 1:11 remaining and, had it been ruled a touchdown, that would have given the 49ers a chance to counter.
As it turned out, the Rams took the ball at the three, Dickerson picked up two yards in two carries and San Francisco called time out with five seconds to play.
On third down, Lansford kicked the field goal and the Rams had escaped with a win for the second week in a row.
Last week, the Cardinals were left standing on the Ram goal line when time ran out.
"It's obvious that we're struggling," Robinson said afterward. "We're a long way from being a great football team. But we're a football team with great heart."
Robinson's was no doubt beating a little faster near the end.
"We finally took the ball the length of the field," he said. "I loved Steve Bartkowski (on) the last drive. It's obvious he's not playing at the level we think he can play, or the level he thinks he can. But, so what?"
Of course, it might not have been "so what" had the 49ers pulled this one out, especially if Kemp, a Ram reserve for five years, had turned out to be the hero.
And, except for two interceptions in the first quarter, Kemp was nothing short of brilliant.
Of course, he's going to have to be because Joe Montana will undergo back surgery this morning and be lost for the rest of the year.
"I'm not Joe Montana but I'll be looking forward to the challenge," Kemp said.
Kemp, flourishing in Coach Bill Walsh's pass offense, put up some numbers that should have made Bartkowski jealous, completing 19 of 24 passes for 252 yards with 1 touchdown.
His one touchdown, though, was a big one, a 66-yarder to Jerry Rice with 6:15 left in the third quarter to cut the Rams' lead to 13-10.
The 49ers tied the game with 2:37 remaining in the third quarter on a 29-yard field goal by Ray Wersching.
Up to that point, the Ram offense had consisted of two Lansford field goals and LeRoy Irvin's 65-yard touchdown return of a blocked field goal attempt by Wersching in the second quarter.
The Ram defense, as usual, was expected to do it all.