Another 100-yard game gives Gore franchise record
With a tough and productive Frank Gore once again leading the charge, the 49ers rode their winning formula of balanced offense, rugged defense and strong special teams to a thorough 19-11 victory Sunday over the Washington Redskins, giving San Francisco its first 7-1 start and six-game winning streak since 1997 and extending the first-place Niners’ lead to five games in the NFC West at midseason.
After his fifth consecutive 100-yard game, a 49ers franchise record, Gore donned a dark green military-style jacket, green cargo pants and designer jewel-encrusted dog tags.
''They were a pretty tough defense, so I told myself I'm going to wear this – because I felt I was going to come out hunting on Sunday,'' the two-time Pro Bowler said. ''It's my hunting outfit.''
Gore did his usual hunting for yardage on the ground, setting a new franchise record with his fifth consecutive 100-yard game while rushing for 107 yards on 19 carries to lift the Niners to their best start in 14 seasons.
With the Seattle Seahawks losing again Sunday in Dallas, the 49ers increased their runaway lead in the NFC West to five games with eight to play. With a half season still remaining, the 49ers already have surpassed their victory total from last year and have matched the victory total that won their division last season.
''It was a tough 100. It was a consummate team 100,'' coach Jim Harbaugh said of another big day by his star back. ''He was just doing what Frank goes, not running out of bounds, getting every yard he could get.''
Quarterback Alex Smith found rookie fullback Bruce Miller for the seventh-round draft pick's first career touchdown, a 30-yarder that accounted for San Francisco’s longest offensive play, and David Akers kicked four field goals for the 49ers.
San Francisco also got another big game from its points-stingy defense, which forced three turnovers and didn't allow a touchdown until the final minutes.
The 49ers, who have allowed an NFL-low 117 points, surrendered just 231 yards and three points until Jabar Gaffney completed a 72-yard drive for the Redskins with a 9-yard touchdown catch from quarterback John Beck with 70 seconds remaining.
San Francisco’s rushing defense, which also ranks No. 1 in the NFL, allowed just 52 yards on the ground.
“I’m proud of our team,” Harbaugh said. “It was a hard-fought win. Defensively, I thought (we) played lights-out again.”
Said linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who had a sack for a San Francisco defense that consistently pressured Beck, “The defense is always prepared to shut out offenses. As long as the offense is scoring, we’ll win the ball game.”
The 49ers are 4-0 on the road for the first time since 1992 – with all four coming on those 1 p.m. Eastern time zone kickoffs which are supposed to drag down West Coast teams. The 49ers haven’t gone 4-0 in the Eastern time zone since 1990.
San Francisco arrived in the Washington area on Friday and spent the extra day watching the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
The fact that Gore picked out a military getup for the game was coincidence, but the players said the outing was another example of team bonding for a franchise trying to end an eight-year stretch without a playoff berth or winning record.
It's a chemistry especially felt by ex-Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers, who watched several fast starts flame out during his six seasons in Washington and has some bragging rights after his victorious return to the nation's capital.
''Different team, different organization,'' said Rogers, part of a defensive effort that allowed only 187 yards through the first three quarters.
''It's different from the top down. That's all I can tell by. Once you've got that, everybody together collected as a team, it's not about this head coach's way and there's no way. It's not about this owner's way or no way. It's not about the star players on our team trying to get their way.''
The fourth straight loss by Rogers' former team was another episode in offensive futility.
After being shut out by Buffalo the previous week, Washington (3-5) got its only points on Graham Gano's franchise-record 59-yard field goal on the last play of the first half and Gaffney’s touchdown reception, which came with just 1:10 remaining. The Redskins converted a two-point conversion, but the 49ers recovered the ensuing onside kick and then ran out the clock.
''Right now, you take a look at the offense, it's tough to take,'' coach Mike Shanahan said. ''Tough to take for me.''
Shanahan tried to shake things up by giving debut starts to three rookies – running back Roy Helu, receiver Leonard Hankerson and left guard Maurice Hurt – and he made numerous references to the injuries that have forced constant shuffling of the lineup.
Beck – now 0-7 as an NFL starter – was chased around by the San Francisco defense while completing 30 of 47 passes for 254 yards with one touchdown and one interception. But 116 of those passing yards came in the fourth quarter during desperation catch-up time.
An indication of the Redskins' struggles: their leading receiver was Helu, who caught a franchise-record 14 passes for 105 yards coming out of the backfield. The 49ers continued their string of eight consecutive games to start the season without allowing a rushing touchdown.
''Sometimes it looks like it's all the quarterback, and that's understandable,'' Shanahan said. ''When you lose a few pieces of the puzzle, the quarterback is going to look pretty average when we're playing pretty average as a group.''
By contrast, Smith managed the game efficiently, hitting 17 of 24 passes for 200 yards and again protecting the football despite taking a big hit on a sack. Smith finished the game with a passer rating of 109.7.
Turnovers led to 10 of the 49ers' points. Dashon Goldson's interception near midfield set up a 52-yard field goal in the second quarter by Akers, who has made all four attempts from 50-plus yards this season.
Then, after another field goal by Akers, Helu caught a pass and was stripped by linebacker Patrick Willis, with safety Donte Whitner recovering the fumble. Willis had another dominant performance with a game-high 13 tackles and two forced fumbles, both recovered by the 49ers.
San Francisco took immediate advantage of the first fumble recovery as Smith lofted a perfect pass Miller, who had gotten behind linebacker Rocky McIntosh for the easy touchdown.
That gave San Francisco a 13-0 lead late in the first half, and behind their aggressive defense, the Niners never looked back from there.