ST. LOUIS – In a first half rife with missteps, it was a stutter-step that got the 49ers going Monday night.
Through nearly 29 ½ minutes, the 49ers were awful. The first real sign of life came when it looked as if they were content to run out the first half. The 49ers struck quickly just before the half and then held on to a 31-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
The 49ers (4-2) are alone in second place in the NFC West, a half-game behind the Arizona Cardinals (4-1) and a half-game ahead of the Seattle Seahawks (3-2).
It took the 49ers a while to get going, but when they did, the 49ers flashed some of the team’s potential.
Late in the first half, the 49ers were letting the clock run down deep in their own territory before running a third-down play.
Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd got Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins to come to a stop when he stutter-stepped on a stop-and-go route down the left sideline. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick lofted a perfect pass to Lloyd, who made the catch and took it the rest of the distance for an 80-yard touchdown with 27 seconds remaining in the first half.
The touchdown pulled the 49ers to 14-10 after St. Louis scored the first two touchdowns of the game.
The pass was the longest of Kaepernick’s career. Lloyd had an 89-yard touchdown while with the 49ers in 2005.
That play sparked the 49ers to an impressive second half.
The 49ers took the lead on the first drive of the second half on a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on Kaepernick’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin. Kaepernick, moving to his left to buy time, lofted the pass over Jenkins’ outstretched arm in the back of the end zone.
Kaepernick struck again with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree for a 24-14 lead late in the third quarter.
Kaepernick continued his hot play on Monday nights, becoming the first quarterback in 49ers history to win his first four starts on Mondays. Kaepernick completed 22 of 36 passes for 343 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Willis sidelined: Linebacker Patrick Willis did not return to the lineup in the second half Monday night due to a toe injury. The severity of the injury was not immediately known, but cornerback Tramaine Brock still has not returned from a toe injury he sustained Week 1.
[RELATED: 49ers' Patrick Willis exits with toe injury]
With Willis sidelined, the 49ers opened the second half with rookie Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite as the inside linebacker. Borland, an All-America at Wisconsin, was a third-round draft pick.
His status was not immediately known. The 49ers figure to be without All-Pro inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman for several more weeks. Bowman continues to rehab from a knee injury sustained in the NFC Championship game.
Injury report: Guard Mike Iupati sustained a concussion in the third quarter. Upon leaving the game, he was taken to the locker room for further evaluation, at which point it was determined he had a concussion. Joe Looney replaced Iupati at left guard. Iupati must pass the NFL’s concussion protocol to return to the playing field.
Rookie Jimmie Ward left the game in the third quarter with a quad injury and did not return. In his absence, Perrish Cox moved inside to cover the slot receiver and Chris Cook played left cornerback in nickel situations.
Special teams scores: Ward broke through to get a hand on Johnny Hekker punt in the second quarter, resulting a 13-yard kick. The 49ers did not get anything going on offense, and had to settle for Phil Dawson’s 54-yard field goal to cut the Rams lead to 14-3.
Early miscues: The Rams scored a touchdown on their first possession with the help of a couple of timely 49ers penalties. Dan Skuta had a 9-yard sack nullified by Ahmad Brooks’ illegal hands to the face. On a second-and-goal situation from the 6, Austin Davis threw incomplete but safety Eric Reid was called for illegal contact. That gave the Rams a first-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Three plays later, Benny Cunningham scored on a 1-yard touchdown run.
The 49ers helped the Rams take a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. The Rams scored their second touchdown when Chris Culliver bit on a play fake, leaving tight end Lance Kendricks all alone for a 22-yard scoring pass from Austin Davis.
After a hot start, Davis cooled off. He finished with 21 completions in 42 attempts for 236 yards.
Monday night history: The 49ers-Rams game marked the 700th game in the history of “Monday Night Football,” which debuted in 1970. The 49ers won for the league-best 46th time on Monday with their seventh consecutive victory on MNF. Dallas is second at 43, while Miami and Pittsburgh have both won 40 times.
The 49ers have only one MNF game scheduled this season. They are scheduled for two more prime-time games: Sunday night at Denver and Thanksgiving night at home against Seattle.
This ‘n’ that
--Boldin’s touchdown catch was his ninth on Monday Night Football – the most of any active player. Boldin finished the night with 7 receptions for 94 yards.
--The Rams’ defensive game plan was evident: They were not going to let Frank Gore beat them. The Rams stacked the box to shut down Gore. St. Louis did have success in stopping Gore. He gained just 38 yards on 16 carries. But it also left them vulnerable to Kaepernick’s passing.
--Brock (toe) and right tackle Anthony Davis (knee) missed their fifth start in six games this season. Both could be back after the bye week. The 49ers return to action on Sunday night against the Denver Broncos.