hauled in a touchdown catch as part of San Francisco's 35-11 win Thursday. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
With less than a minute remaining in the first half Thursday, facing 4th-and-inches from the St. Louis 34-yard-line, the 49ers finally decided enough was enough.
The defending NFC champs spent the past few days answering questions about everything from a 1-2 start to the handling of Aldon Smith's off-field troubles to whether Colin Kaepernick could even succeed as an NFL quarterback anymore. And then, in the blink of an eye, everything was back to normal.
Frank Gore took that fourth-down carry -- after replay overturned a first down he appeared to have on the previous snap -- and burst through the line for a 34-yard touchdown. That play gave the 49ers a 14-3 lead, and they never looked back in a decisive and important 35-11 win over the Rams.
"We're still the same team as last year," said running back Frank Gore on the NFL Network's postgame show. Gore also revealed that the 49ers held a players-only meeting prior to coming to St. Louis. "Last two weeks, things wasn't going our way. We sat down and talked and said we have to get back on track."
Smith, who this week entered a rehab facility after a DUI arrest, was not in the lineup for San Francisco. Neither was six-time Pro Bowler Patrick Willis, who stood on the sideline in street clothes nursing a groin injury. Shorthanded, on a short week, the 49ers badly needed someone to get their season back on track. NaVorro Bowman answered the bell.
Arguably the most underappreciated member of San Francisco's phenomenal linebacking corps, Bowman stepped up in place of his missing cohorts and terrorized the Rams all night. Specifically, he lived in Sam Bradford's pocket, chalking up a pair of sacks, three tackles for loss and an icing-on-the-cake forced fumble in the fourth quarter. Rams running backs Daryl Richardson and Benny Cunningham served as turnstiles as Bowman flew past them repeatedly.
Sparked by that performance (and aided by the ineptitude of St. Louis' offense), the 49ers finally punched back after being smacked around by Seattle and Indianapolis the past two weeks.
"I woke up this morning and I told our general manager [Trent Baalke], I said, 'I'm going out here and I'm going to get you this win today,'" Bowman told the NFL Network's Alex Flanagan. "We're not used to losing."
San Francisco's offense, 29th in points and 27th in yards through three weeks, followed suit. Jim Harbaugh's crew came out featuring the one-receiver, multiple tight end look that served it so well in 2012. From there, the 49ers fed Frank Gore against the Rams' putrid rush defense.
Gore yet again showed that he has plenty left in the tank, ripping off runs of 18, 27 and 17 yards during the first two quarters, before culminating that early outburst with his 4th-and-1 score. The 30-year-old Gore finished with 153 yards, part of a 219-yard effort on the ground from San Francisco.
"It's not that we were playing bad football," Kaepernick said. "We were just missing things we shouldn't have been missing."
As cathartic as this victory was for San Francisco, it was equally depressing for the host Rams. They entered Week 4 in the same spot as their Thursday opponent: 1-2 and coming off a humiliating Week 3 defeat.
The Rams' high point for the evening came in taking a 3-0 lead in the first quarter. A chance to steal momentum back in the second quarter went awry when Donte Whitner picked off Bradford on a diving interception in the endzone.
Pick an aspect of St. Louis' game and it went through the motions. The offense started with Bradford misfiring on what should have been a touchdown pass to Austin Pettis, and ended with all of 18 yards rushing (31 fewer than San Francisco backup running back Kendall Hunter). The defense was gashed on the ground for the second straight game, while struggling cornerback Cortland Finnegan somehow allowed a 3rd-and-19 touchdown pass to swing momentum.
It would have taken a near-perfect effort for the Rams to pull out a win. They did not even come close to approaching that level, leaving the door wide open for San Francisco. The 49ers, after a bit of a sluggish start, rolled on through.
"We played together, we played as one, played as a family and put it all out on the field," Vernon Davis told ESPN. "We knew that we had to win this game, no matter what."