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Niners bounce back, dominate Rams with run game, defense in 35-11 win

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com

The Niners are back.

At least that will be the storyline coming out of Thursday night's 35-11 win over the division rival Rams. Conveniently forgotten: The 49ers were blown out in the previous two weeks by the Seahawks and the Colts. The former came at CenturyLink Field where it's almost impossible to win, and the latter was an embarrassing effort at Candlestick Park that left critics wondering why Alex Smith was ever traded.

But that's the nature of today's NFL, where "What have you done for me lately?" is measured in minutes and days and not weeks or months. And for San Francisco, that meant reevaluating what works and what doesn't.

Against St. Louis that included a simplified offensive philosophy that should make quarterback Colin Kaepernick's job easier, and a defense that suddenly looked like the dominating 2012 version that had been missing this season.

But before we start with the playoff talk, the 49ers are going to have to build on this win. The Rams are a bad team, incapable of running or stopping the run, and it was exactly what San Francisco needed to get back track.

The 49ers' game plan began with running back Frank Gore, who rushed for 107 yards on 10 carries before halftime. That included four runs of at least 18 yards topped off by a 34-yard touchdown sprint with 34 seconds to go before the break. Gore finished with 20 carries for 153 yards.

Meanwhile, Kaepernick looked a lot like the confident, mobile quarterback we saw during the second half of last season. And it wasn't because he was asked to throw the ball all over the yard. The NFL is all about adjustments, and for 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, that meant giving his young QB half-field reads facilitated by rollouts to his right. After enjoying so much success so quickly, it's easy to forget that Kaepernick has started only 11 regular-season games.

During the 49ers' two-game losing streak, Kap completed just 47.2 percent of his passes. Exacerbating matters: He had six turnovers over that span. Even more troubling: After finding Anquan Boldin 13 times for 208 yards in the Week 1 victory against the Packers, he completed just 13 passes to his wide receivers in the next two games.

Some of that was because defenses game-planned to stop Boldin. Some of that was because Michael Crabtree is out until at least November with an Achilles injury, and some of that is what happens when you don't have any other viable options (Kyle Williams, Quinton Patton and Jonathan Baldwin aren't getting it done -- at least not at the moment).

But those issues were mitigated by a resurgent rushing attack (it also didn't hurt that Boldin abused Rams' cornerback Cortland Finnegan for much of the first half before Finnegan left with a thigh injury).

Then there's this: The 49ers' defense suffocated a Rams offense that looked lost for most of the evening. And San Francisco did this without linebackers Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis. The front four was in the St. Louis backfield all game, and the secondary made it impossible for the Rams to establish a downfield passing attack.

It's too early to proclaim that this victory will be the turning point in San Francisco's season, but it's certainly a good start. They still need to get healthy, but 31 other teams can also make that claim. For now, the 49ers are 2-2 and right back in the mix. And they even managed to do it without a Phil Dawson 71-yard free-kick attempt.

Next up: Houston comes to town Oct. 6.

The latest Eye on Football Podcast breaks down 49ers-Rams. Subscribe via iTunes here.

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