- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Digging deep: The 49ers simply had to win this game. They were 1-2 and were outscored by a combined 56-10 the past two weeks. Their offense looked horrible, injuries were piling up, linebacker Aldon Smith left the team to seek alcohol rehab treatment and they were playing on a short week. The odds were stacked against them -- and the 49ers responded. They dominated on both sides of the ball. They are now 2-2 and feeling pretty good about themselves.
Back to basics: In the first three weeks, the 49ers didn’t run the ball consistently on offense and had trouble, at times, on defense. That’s not the 49ers’ way. They win by dominating on the ground on both sides of the ball. It sets their tone, which is what happened Thursday. Frank Gore ran for 153 yards (his highest total since 2009) on 20 carries. His 34-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-inches late in the second quarter gave the 49ers a 14-3 lead. It also increases their win probability 18.1 percent to 85.3 percent. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Gore had 115 yards between the tackles Thursday. He had a total of 88 yards between the tackles in the first three games. Defensively, the 49ers held the Rams to 18 rushing yards on 19 carries. It was a great bounce-back performance -- especially considering they were missing inside linebacker Patrick Willis -- for a unit that allowed 179 yards on the ground last Sunday against the Colts.
Dodging a bullet: This great win looked like it was going to be ruined very late in the game when standout left tackle Joe Staley was on the turf, yelling in pain. He later said he thought he broke his ankle, but he tweeted that he was fine. Coach Jim Harbaugh said it looked like the team “dodged a bullet.”
Youngsters get involved: The 49ers are one of the league’s youngest teams and they are starting to rely on some less experienced players. Receiver Jon Baldwin played for the first time since being acquired in a deal with Kansas City for fellow former first-round pick A.J. Jenkins. Baldwin came up with some big catches. Harbaugh liked what he saw. Running back LaMichael James played for the first time this season. He didn’t do much, but at least he’s in the mix. Rookie Corey Lemonier played a lot in Smith’s absence and looked promising. Michael Wilhoite played solidly in Willis’ absence. Getting these players work should pay off as the season progresses.
9hEric D. Williams