After losing to the Colts at home on Sept. 22, the 49ers seemed to have misplaced their mojo.
They’d suffered two straight losses under head coach Jim Harbaugh for the first time, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the running game and defense were all struggling.
“We ain’t having no drives, making those big plays, too many three-and-outs (and) we’re not getting in rhythm,” said running back Frank Gore, after the 27-7 loss to Indianapolis, which followed by one week a big loss to the Seahawks.
Two games later, however, and the Niners are starting to regain a bit of their swagger.
Sunday night, in a nationally televised game against the Houston Texans at Candlestick Park, the 49ers pounded out a 34-3 victory 10 days after beating the Rams.
In both victories, the Niners returned to their formula of the previous two seasons, using a punishing ground game and strong defense while seemingly getting away from emphasizing Kaepernick’s electric athletic talents.
“I think for us we needed to get back to playing our style of football,” Kaepernick told columnist Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group. “Hard-nosed football.”
Against the Texans, San Francisco ran the ball 36 times for 177 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, with Gore gaining 81 yards on 17 rushes. Kaepernick, meanwhile, threw just 15 times, completing six for 113 yards and a touchdown. Over the past two games, the 49ers have rushed for 396 yards.
“The one thing I think we can pride ourselves in is our run game,” right guard Alex Boone told the Bay Area News Group. “We have the best running back in the NFL and a physical offensive line.”
The idea was to put together long drives, control the clock and allow the 49ers’ strong defense – even with missing linebackers Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis – to stay fresh.
“I think this team is getting its confidence back,” Kaepernick said. “Our defense has played amazing, our offensive line played well and we got a win.”
Added Harbaugh: “I just thought it was a well-executed game plan in every phase. Really pleased. Guys were executing well. Just about every area you look at was extremely good.”
On defense, the 49ers intercepted Texans QB Matt Schaub three times and took the ball away on a fumble.
The Niners seem to be rolling again after going back to the basics of their offense: run the ball often behind an exceptional offensive line and the blocking of fullback Bruce Miller.
Said Gore: “Once I get going, it’s hard to stop me.”
The 49ers (now 3-2), who host the Arizona Cardinals (3-2) this Sunday, still have some issues: a second wide receiver to complement Anquan Boldin has yet to emerge, defensive end Ray McDonald has a potentially serious bicep injury, Aldon Smith is out probably until some time in November and Willis has missed two straight games. And, the Niners still trail in the NFC West -- though Seattle's loss this week drops them to 4-1.
But with their running game back on track and a defense that’s executing very well even without some key parts, the Niners seem to have shaken off their two early-season losses.
“We have that much talent on this team, that many weapons and we’re that good,” linebacker NaVorro Bowman said after the Sunday-night victory. “We just have to go out there and play like it every Sunday.”