In back-to-back losses to the Seahawks and Colts, the 49ers hadn’t been playing like the Niners of the past two seasons.
They couldn’t run the ball, couldn’t stuff the run and couldn’t produce big plays and big stops when they were needed.
On Thursday night in St. Louis, however, the Niners got back to business just when it looked as if they were in danger of becoming irrelevant in the NFC West.
San Francisco beat the Rams 35-11 to get back to .500 at 2-2 by pounding the football on the ground and stifling the St. Louis running game.
Frank Gore carried the ball 20 times for 153 yards and a touchdown and San Francisco held the Rams to just 18 yards rushing to get its first win since a Week 1 victory over the Packers.
And, the 49ers did it without injured All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis and suspended linebacker Aldon Smith, and a short week of preparation after a home loss to Indianapolis.
Going into the Thursday’s game, it was billed as head coach Jim Harbaugh’s first big test of his three-year NFL coaching career. Never before had his 49ers lost two in a row, and the 49ers' house seemed to be crumbling with injuries and adversity. Even veteran running back Gore last week expressed his displeasure to Harbaugh that the team had gotten away from its power-running game.
In a column on NFL.com posted Thursday morning, Michael Silver wrote that the 49ers were “running high on stress and low on mojo,” and some in the league were wondering if Harbaugh had the personality to pull his team out of its early-season funk. “Even inside the organization, there’s a justifiable concern that the high-strung, oft-antagonistic Harbaugh might not possess the ideal personality type to navigate the situation,” wrote Silver.
But Thursday night – against a team that went 1-0-1 vs. the 49ers in 2012 – the Niners appeared to get their mojo back, playing a more power-oriented game on both sides of the ball.
After the Rams went up 3-0 early, the 49ers drove 80 yards in the second half to take the lead on a 20-yard TD pass from Colin Kaepernick to Anquan Boldin. Later in the half, the 49ers completed another 80-yard drive when Gore blew through a huge hole opened by guard Mike Iupati on a 4th-and-1 to sprint 34 yards for a TD.
The Niners then went up 28-3 on a TD pass from Kaepernick to tight end Vernon Davis – playing despite a sore hamstring – and a 1-yard plunge by Anthony Dixon, then tacked on a Kendall Hunter 29-yard run to end the scoring after the Rams scored their only TD of the game.
Not only did the 49ers get their running attack back on track, but Kaepernick was able to bounce back from the two worst games of his young career. He completed 15-of-23 throws for 167 yards, two TDs and no picks. And, in his first game activated for the 49ers, receiver Jon Baldwin showed he might be the No. 2 receiver the offense has needed, picking up 19 yards on two receptions.
The only down side was a late injury to left offensive tackle Joe Staley, who had to leave the game. His status for the Oct. 6 game vs. the Texans is uncertain.
Thursday night’s division win – after the ugliness of lopsided consecutive losses – now restores some momentum to a 49ers season that had gotten off track. It was a welcome outcome for both the team and its fans.
As one 49ers fan tweeted late in the game, “Great watching my @49ers play tonite. … Been a rough past few weeks.”