Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick sprints to a touchdown against the Titans. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
In their victory over the Arizona Cardinals a week ago, the 49ers put the game away with a long, 18-play, time-killing touchdown drive.
It was an old-fashioned power-football march, and afterward head coach Jim Harbaugh said, “We grinded some meat.”
On Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, the San Francisco butchers were at it again.
The 49ers won their fourth straight game and improved to 5-2 overall, with a 31-17 decision over the Titans by again using an old-school, meat-grinding ground attack to set the tempo.
On San Francisco’s first possession, it drove 65 yards from its own 9-yard line in 12 plays to take a 3-0 lead on Phil Dawson’s 44-yard field goal. Nine times on the drive, the 49ers ran the ball.
The Niners then went up 10-0 in the second quarter by going 80 yards in eight plays, capped by quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s first rushing TD of the season on a 20-yard keeper.
Then, after going in at halftime up 17-0 on a short TD drive set up by Tramaine Brock’s interception of Jake Locker, the 49ers ate up 7:40 on a 12-play, 79-yard drive that ended with Frank Gore’s second 1-yard scoring run of the day.
That put the 49ers up 24-0 and essentially sealed the victory that now sends San Francisco to London with a full head of steam for a game against the 0-7 Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday. A victory in London would make the 49ers 6-2 going into their bye week.
For four straight weeks now – since suffering back-to-back losses to the Seahawks and Colts in Games 2 and 3 – the 49ers have reverted to the run-first philosophy that was their standard in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, with Gore the main weapon behind a physical offensive line.
That was again the case in Nashville Sunday, with Gore carrying the ball 24 times for 70 yards. Though the average wasn’t great – Gore’s longest run was just 7 yards – it kept the Titans’ defense honest, allowed Kaepernick some running room (he carried 11 times for 68 yards) and set up the passing game. Kaepernick completed 13-of-21 passes for 199 yards.
As ESPN NFL analyst Gary Horton said recently, the 49ers’ reliance on Gore has been the bedrock of their offensive resurgence since the loss to Indianapolis. If the running game has success in the current pass-happy NFL, the whole offense does, too.
“San Francisco may be the only place where the running game still opens the passing game,” Horton said. “A good Frank Gore day is a good day for (Kaepernick). … I really think Gore is the most important cog in that offense, and you can’t say that about many running backs in this league anymore.”
For the game, San Francisco ran the ball 41 times for 153 yards, a 3.7-yards-per-carry average.
Meanwhile, while the 49ers were pounding the ball on offense, the San Francisco defense shut down the Titans’ running game (just 70 yards) and shackled quarterback Jake Locker until Locker started moving the ball late in the game, especially after both starting safeties, Donte Whitner and Eric Reid, had to leave the game with injuries.