Three and Out: Gore rights 49ers ship; Bowman steps up
NaVorro Bowman: “If a link gets taken out of the chain, someone has to step up.” (AP)
Programming note: Watch today's 49ers press conference with head coach Jim Harbaugh today at 2 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and streaming live online here
What you need to know: The 49ers played without two of their three All-Pro linebackers on Thursday.
They still had NaVorro Bowman, and he – along with a huge helping hand supplied by some reserves pressed into service – proved to be more than enough in a 35-11 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
“If a link gets taken out of the chain, someone has to step up,” Bowman said. “And being a veteran guy, you have to think like that if you want to be the best. I was just playing my game and doing what the coaches were calling upstairs and just executing. All the guys on the field did.”
Outside linebacker Aldon Smith missed his first game after taking a voluntary leave of absence to enter a rehabilitation program for substance abuse this week. And Patrick Willis was out of action with a groin strain. Moreover, the 49ers played without third cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
[RELATED: Box Score -- 49ers 35, Rams 11]
Even without Smith, the team’s leading sack artist, the 49ers put the pressure on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, sacking him five times. Bowman, who entered the game with just four sacks 51 career games, recorded a career-best two sacks. One of his sacks led to a forced fumble, which the 49ers promptly turned into a fourth-quarter touchdown.
“We don’t really blitz that often but when coach calls the blitz he expects us to beat the back, he expects us to win,” Bowman said of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “Some games we may not be doing well so we may not blitz, but if it’s successful he will keep calling it and that’s what happened tonight.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman stuck with what was working, too.
The 49ers returned to a power running game, behind a powerful offensive line and running back Frank Gore, to take care of business on offense. The proven formula allowed the 49ers to snap a two-game losing streak after lackluster showings in losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts.
“It was a get-back-on-track game, especially against a team that beat us last year and also tied us,” Gore said. “We lost two in a row and we knew we couldn’t do this again.
“We had to get back on track and just be us. Just be us. That’s playing smash-mouth football, and great defense and great special teams. That’s what we do.”
Gore gained 153 yards and a touchdown on 20 rushing attempts for the fifth-highest rushing total of his nine-year career. Gore, the 49ers’ all-time leading rusher, went over the 9,000-yard mark in his career. He now has 9,134 rushing yards.
The 49ers gained 219 yards on the ground, while holding the Rams to 18 rushing yards.
Inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite, filling in for Willis, recorded seven tackles. Two players stepped up to replace Aldon Smith, as Dan Skuta played base downs and rookie Corey Lemonier entered in pass-rush situations. Ahmad Brooks picked up 1.5 sacks.
Tramaine Brock took over as the No. 3 cornerback, and he recorded three tackles and broke up two passes, including one deflection that led to Donte Whitner’s interception in the end zone.
Turning point: Gore’s first-down run was overturned on review, so the 49ers faced with a fourth-and-1 situation with 1:07 remaining in the first half. Already leading 7-3, Harbaugh opted to go for it.
[RELATED: Instant Replay -- Gore, 49ers get back on track in St. Louis]
The 49ers lined up a spread formation, prompting the Rams to call a timeout. When the 49ers came back, they set up on a power formation. Gore took the handoff and blasted through a huge hole on the right side and scampered 34 yards for a touchdown to give the 49ers a 14-3 lead.
“It was a power play,” Gore said. “I just read it.”
Gore picked up a block by pulling guard Mike Iupati, as well as strong efforts on the front side from tackle Anthony Davis, guard Alex Boone and tight end Vernon Davis. Extra blocker Adam Snyder also provided a big block.
Run first: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, coming off his worst two games as a starting quarterback, did not run much and threw for only 167 yards. But he gave the 49ers all they needed.
“We wanted to have a good mix and it takes that against a really good team like the Rams,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “They do a great job and our team was faced with a short week and that was big task.”
Kaepernick gained 11 yards on three carries. He also completed 15 of 23 passes for 167 with two touchdowns and no interceptions. On this night, he was more than happy to take a backseat to Gore.
“We knew we had to get him his touches,” Kaepernick said. “He’s a Hall-of-Fame running back. You have to give him the ball.”
Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin teamed up for oen of the big plays, as the 49ers took their first lead since walking off the field with a Week 1 victory over the Green Bay Packers on a 20-yard scoring pass. Boldin made a catch along the right sideline and remained inbounds as he escaped Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan and dove into the end zone.
““I think Kap did a great job,” said Boldin, who caught five passes for 90 yards. “He was focused. He came in ready to play. I think we all wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouths. We had lost two games straight. It’s not fun losing. We were excited to have a short week. The best antidote for losing is to come back and win.”
Lasting impact: Receiver Jon Baldwin, acquired in the August trade with the Kansas City Chiefs for A.J. Jenkins, made his 49ers. He caught a 15-yard pass on a third-and-9 situation on a drive that ended with Kaepernick throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis.
“It was good to see him get out and compete,” Harbaugh said. “I have a good feeling about him.”
Baldwin was active for the first time, as Marlon Moore, the No. 3 receiver in the first three games, was demoted. Kyle Williams, who started the first three games, also slipped down the down chart.
The 49ers mostly played with two tight ends and two running backs. Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald played 49 snaps apiece, while Gore play 42 snaps and fullback Bruce Miller was on the field for 36 plays. When they went with two receivers early in the game, Boldin was joined by Quinton Patton.
Patton, a rookie, caught the first pass of his NFL career for zero yards, but he left the game in the first quarter with a foot injury and did not return. His status is unknown.
Rare opportunity: The 49ers half concluded with an oddity, as Phil Dawson attempted a rare fair-catch kick. The 49ers invoked a rarely used rule when Kyle Williams made a fair catch of a Rams punt at the 49ers’ 39 with four seconds remaining in the half.
Kicker Phil Dawson lined up for a 71-yard field goal of a kickoff formation out of the hold of Andy Lee with the Rams not allowed to supply a rush.
Dawson decided to go with a kickoff approach for distance. His attempt was short and wide left, allowing Rams deep man Austin Pettis to return the ball from 9 yards deep in the end zone.
The last time the 49ers attempted a fair-catch kick was Jan. 1, 1989, when Mike Cofer missed his attempt from 60 yards. The last successful fair-catch kick was in 1976 when former 49ers kicker Ray Wersching, then with the San Diego Chargers, made a 45-yarder.
Another rarity: Gore, Anthony Dixon and Kendall Hunter each supplied rushing touchdowns for the 49ers. It was the first time since Dec. 2, 2001, that the 49ers had three different running backs score in the same game. Garrison Hearst, Fred Beasley and Paul Smith each scored in the same game more than a decade ago against the Buffalo Bills. Aside from Gore’s 34-yard scoring run, Dixon scored on a 1-yard run, and Hunter wrapped up the scoring with 4:29 remaining with a 29-yard gallop.
Staley’s OK: Left tackle Joe Staley slammed his hand into the turf when he went down late in the game with an ankle injury. The team gathered around, and Staley refused to be loaded onto a cart for the ride back to undergo X-rays across the hall from the 49ers’ locker room.
When Staley emerged, he revealed that X-rays were negative and he was all right. That led to some good-natured fun as Boone poked fun at Staley for being overly dramatic when the injury occurred.
"I think were going to dodge a bullet there," Jim Harbaugh said of Staley. "He's going to walk that one off."
Play time: Staley, Alex Boone and Jonathan Goodwin played all 69 offensive snaps. Staley was injured on the 49ers’ final offensive play of the game. Kaepernick played 67 snaps, with Colt McCoy entering at quarterback for the final two plays. Bruce Miller played 36 snaps. Hunter saw action on 19 plays, with Dixon playing 11 saps. LaMichael James made his debut and played four snaps. He carried three times for no yards. Among the wide receivers, Boldin played 54 snaps, following by Kyle Williams 22, Baldwin 16, Kassim Osgood 13 and Patton seven.
On defense, Eric Reid, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers played a team-high 64 snaps. Here’s how many snaps each of the other defenders played: Bowman 61, Whitner 61, Wilhoite 60, Brooks 56, Ray McDonald 53, Brock 44, Lemonier 43, Justin Smith 43, Skuta 32, Glenn Dorsey 26, Tony Jerod-Eddie 21, Demarcus Dobbs 14, Perrish Cox 13, Nate Stupar 6, Craig Dahl 6, C.J. Spillman 3, Raymond Ventrone 3.
Quote of the day: ”I just work. As long as I have a great offseason and I know I train hard, I know I’m fine. I don’t care about the age thing. That motivates me to keep me going.”
--Gore on still playing at a high level at age 30
Looking Ahead: The 49ers (2-2) have 10 days to rest and prepare to face the Houston Texans on Oct. 6 at Candlestick Park in a nationally televised Sunday night game on NBC.