SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Greg Zuerlein lifted his arms in the air, looked back to the sideline and waited for teammates to start running around celebrating his winning field goal.
As with so many other times Sunday, the St. Louis Rams thought they had the San Francisco 49ers beaten — until they didn't. Instead, after 75 minutes of physical, penalty-filled football, neither team really knew how to react.
Zuerlein’s 53-yard field goal in overtime was wiped away by a delay-of-game penalty, and then he missed from 58 yards before the Rams and 49ers ended in a 24-24 tie.
‘‘I didn’t realize it,’’ Zuerlein said. ‘‘I just kicked it like I thought that was going to be the game.’’
After the first NFL stalemate in four years, Zuerlein hardly shouldered the blame alone for the Rams not coming away with a win.
Punter and holder Johnny Hekker took full responsibility for the blunder, a 5-yard penalty that made an already tough try even tougher in the damp Candlestick Park air. Zuerlein attempted again from 58 yards as coach Jeff Fisher played for the win, missing wide right with 2:42 remaining in OT.
‘‘Greg said he gave me the head nod at 4 seconds,’’ said Hekker, who added that he should've been aware of the clock. ‘‘Never had a nod-to-hand flash take more than 4 seconds, so I'm still kind of puzzled how that happened. We had chances to win the game, and didn’t win the game.’’
Same for both sides, really.
San Francisco’s David Akers missed wide left on a 41-yard attempt that could have sealed it for the 49ers (6-2-1), who lost quarterback Alex Smith to a concussion in the second quarter.
And just when it seemed the 49ers — and Akers’ typically reliable left leg — would have one more chance to win it, San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis was flagged for holding Lance Kendricks on third down. That extended St. Louis’ last drive, one of costly and uncharacteristic mistakes by coach Jim Harbaugh’s team.
Akers booted a tying 33-yarder with 3 seconds left in regulation after Sam Bradford threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Austin Pettis with 1:09 remaining.
On the first play of OT, Bradford completed an 80-yard pass to Danny Amendola that took St. Louis (3-5-1) to the 2, but the play was called back for an illegal formation — which both Bradford and Fisher said they thought was late, but not necessarily incorrect. Some 49ers fans even got up to leave, then returned to their seats.
The last tie was between Philadelphia and Cincinnati, 13-13 in 2008.
‘‘I have to say, I've been doing this a while. I don’t think I've ever been in a game like this,’’ Fisher said. ‘‘As I told our guys, we had a number of chances to put the game away. And, unfortunately, we didn't.’’
Frank Gore ran for a 20-yard touchdown with 8:23 to go in regulation just 17 seconds after backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick scurried 7 yards for a score. Kaepernick finished 11 for 17 for 117 yards and also had eight carries for 66 yards, calmly leading the Niners after it took several series to find his groove.
Gore ran for 97 yards, while Michael Crabtree made five catches for 70 yards and a 14-yard touchdown from Smith before he left the game.
Amendola returned for the Rams following a three-game absence with a shoulder injury to make 11 catches for 102 yards. Bradford went 26 for 39 for 275 yards and two touchdowns — yet the outcome still left him feeling, well, incomplete.
‘‘I think anyone would like to keep playing. I really don’t know what good a tie does,’’ Bradford said. ‘‘It’s frustrating when you play a game and you put so much into it during the week and during the course of it, today five quarters, you'd like to come away with either a win or a loss.’’
Smith took a hard hit on the back of the neck from linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar after a scramble with 1:10 left in the first quarter. But the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft stayed in the game and completed his next five passes, including Crabtree’s TD.
Smith, who has started 28 straight games, wound up 7 for 8 for 72 yards.
The 49ers didn’t face Bradford in either meeting last season as the 2010 top draft pick missed six games with a high left ankle sprain. This time, he had all kinds of extra opportunities.
Bradford found Steven Jackson for a 14-yard gain and first down late in the third period to keep a drive going. Jackson’s helmet flew off as he bowled through Willis. St. Louis benefited moments later from two 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, extending the Rams drive each time, before Zuerlein kicked a 27-yard field goal.
Crabtree’s touchdown midway through the second quarter gave him a TD reception in five straight games against the Rams. It was his third touchdown in two games, and all of his team-leading four TD catches have come in the last five games.
Kaepernick took over on San Francisco’s next possession after Smith went to the bench to be examined by medical personnel and later left to the locker room with a concussion.
One wild play late in the first half summed up this wacky day on both sides: Hekker, the Rams punter, completed a 21-yard pass to safety Rodney McLeod from the end zone after Chris Culliver left McLeod.
Hekker did it again in the Rams’ 14-play, 18-yard drive over the final minutes of regulation when he faked an end-around and threw a 19-yard completion to Kendricks on fourth-and-8 from the Rams 33. He finished with a notable 118.8 passer rating.
But the defense couldn’t get a stop, allowing Kaepernick to get his team back into field-goal range for Akers to tie it.
Notes: Rams CB Janoris Jenkins and WR Chris Givens were held out for an unspecified team rules violation. Fisher said afterward he isn’t sure if the starters would play next week at home against the New York Jets. ... Rams LT Wayne Hunter played after missing two games with a back injury.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP