What you need to know: It was not a statistical masterpiece, by any means, but the 49ers appear to be in good shape on a number of different fronts.
It was just a month ago the 49ers were reeling after back-to-back losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts.
A team in turmoil?
Hardly, as it turns out.
On Sunday, the 49ers won their fourth game in succession with a 31-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, Tenn., to remain just one game behind the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.
The 49ers got their usual outstanding play from its defense through three quarters. Special teams were outstanding. And both defense and special teams contributed greatly to the 49ers scoring 30 or more points in their fourth consecutive game for the first time since late in the 1998 season.
“We are taking small steps, but we are taking them in the right direction,” 49ers running back Frank Gore said. “We are taking baby steps, and we just have to keep doing it and keep finding ways to win.”
Gore and quarterback Colin Kaepernick did a little bit of everything Sunday in the winning cause.
Gore had two rushing touchdowns and 104 total yards of offense. Colin Kaepernick completed 13 of 21 passes for 199 yards. He did not commit a turnover, and he helped the 49ers succeed on eight of their first 10 third-down conversions.
Gore and Kaepernick combined for the game-changing play after the 49ers had to settle for a field goal at the end of a long opening drive. The read option made a triumphant return to the 49ers’ offense after being a seldom-used facet of the offense in the first six weeks of the season.
“Sometimes you bring it out,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Then, we put it away. We will bring it back out. It’s such a great tool to have. It’s such a club in our bag.”
On a third-and-7 play in the second quarter, Kaepernick faked a handoff to Gore and kept it as he ran around the left side. He picked up blocks from tight end Vance McDonald and fullback Bruce Miller to break through the line and pick up the yardage for the first down.
Then, Gore supplied a takedown block on safety Michael Griffin to enable Kaepernick to get into the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown run. The play gave the 49ers a 10-0 lead.
“It happened in practice,” Gore said, “and coach (Tom) Rathman said, ‘If you don’t get it, if you get the chance, go outside and get the safety.’ And that’s what happened. He saw the look in practice and it happened in practice the same way, and Kap got the touchdown.”
Kaepernick rushed for 68 yards and his first touchdown of the season on 11 rushing attempts. He had eight rushing touchdowns last season in 10 games, including the playoffs.
“It is just another part of our offense,” Kaepernick said. “Week-to-week, it is going to depend what we do with it. It is going to depend on what the defense is doing.”
Injury concerns: Starting safeties Donte Whitner and Eric Reid showed little signs of injuries as they came off the field after the game. Whitner (left knee) sat out most of the fourth quarter. Reid (left ankle) came out for just one play in the fourth quarter.
Not coincidentally, the Titans scored a touchdown on running back Chris Johnson’s 66-yard scamper through the 49ers’ defense after a short pass from quarterback Jake Locker on the only play in which neither Whitner nor Reid was on the field.
About an hour after the game, Reid was limping badly as he went to the team bus to head to the airport. His status for this week is uncertain.
Always on offense: Tramaine Brock had his fifth career interception in his sixth game as the 49ers’ No. 3 cornerback. The 49ers turned his pick of Jake Locker into a touchdown.
Later, the 49ers scored a touchdown on special teams. Rookie Darryl Morris sprinted down the field and created a distraction for Tennessee punt returner Darius Reynaud, who muffed the punt in the fourth quarter. Veteran Kassim Osgood recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
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It was a solid all-around effort, as the 49ers built a 24-0 lead into the fourth quarter. Then, the 49ers’ defense gave up a couple of touchdowns, including a 26-yard touchdown pass to former teammate Delanie Walker in the closing minutes.
“I think toward the end of the game, we got a little bit out of our game and got a little bit uncharacteristic of our defense,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. “One thing we talk about all the time is finishing, and I think we allowed them to get in our head at the end.”
Don’t mess with Kap: Left tackle Joe Staley came to Kaepernick’s defense after Titans safety Bernard Pollard mixed it up with the 49ers’ quarterback while both players were going for a loose ball that turned out to be an incomplete pass, not a fumble. A melee ensued, and Harbaugh got involved as he tried to separate Pollard from Staley. “I was right in the middle of it?” Harbaugh said when asked about his involvement as a peacemaker.
Play time: Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey started despite a hamstring strain that kept him out most of the week of practices. Dorsey played 12 snaps, as the 49ers were mostly in their nickel defense.
Tony Jerod-Eddie played 20 snaps on defense, while rookie Quinton Dial made his NFL debut with seven plays at left defensive end.
Here’s the play time for the entire defense: Patrick Willis, Tarell Brown, NaVorro Bowman and Carlos Rogers played all 59 snaps, followed by Eric Reid 58, Ahmad Brooks 52, Tramaine Brock 43, Corey Lemonier, 40, Donte Whitner 38, Ray McDonald 38, Justin Smith 35, Dan Skuta 23, Demarcus Dobbs 22, C.J. Spillman 18, Craig Dahl 4 and Perrish Cox 3.
On offense, Joe Staley, Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin and Colin Kaepernick played all 65 snaps, followed by Frank Gore 57, Bruce Miller 54, Vernon Davis 51, Anquan Boldin 43, Kyle Williams 42, Vance McDonald 34, Jon Baldwin 13, Garrett Celek 12, Adam Snyder 7, Kendall Hunter 7, Daniel Kilgore 4, Anthony Dixon 1.
Two-headed monster: Again, the 49ers got no production in the passing game from a No. 2 wide receiver. But Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis are doing enough to carry the day.
Boldin caught five passes for 74 yards, and Davis had four receptions for 62 yards. Gore had 34 yards on two receptions, and McDonald added one catch for 20 yards. And that was it from the pass-catchers.
“I think we did a great job of mixing it up,” Boldin said. “I think that the best thing we did was not turn it over. Any time you play on the road, those are the things that kill you. We have been taking care of the ball, as of late, and we have been winning.”
Quote of the day: ”It was a dream play by Darryl Morris and Kassim Osgood. It’s one you just lay awake at night and dream about. It looked like an arrow going through snow. That was (Morris’) 4.3 speed and Kassim Osgood, the veteran that he is, capitalized on a mistake.”
--Harbaugh on Osgood’s recovery of a muffed punt in the end zone for a touchdown.
Looking Ahead: The 49ers arrived in London Monday afternoon – or early in the morning, Pacific time. The team will stay and practice at a luxury hotel and golf resort in Hertfordshire to prepare to face the winless Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at Wembley Stadium. Following the game, the 49ers will have their bye week before returning to action Nov. 10 to face the Carolina Panthers.
Harbaugh said he is hopeful outside linebacker Aldon Smith will be back on the team after the bye week. Smith entered into in-patient treatment for substance abuse on Sept. 23, just three days after being arrested on DUI charges.
A source told CSNBayArea.com that Smith could meet with the 49ers during the bye week. If he demonstrates “significant progress,” Smith will return to the 49ers’ active roster.
"I'm not real knowledgeable on exactly when that's going to be,” Harbaugh said, “but I think that at some point in the next couple of weeks."
Harbaugh visited with Smith’s mother, Kembrya, who made the trip from her home outside of Kansas City to Nashville for the weekend. Harbaugh said he was encouraged by the reports he has received on Smith’s condition.
“I hear things are going very well,” Harbaugh said.