For the first time since their blowout win over the St. Louis Rams, the 49ers immediately jumped on their opponents from the start of the game instead of waiting to mount a furious second half comeback.
Alex Smith attempted more passes in the first half (29) than in any half of his NFL career, and threw two touchdown passes to help the 49ers comfortably defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars 20-3 and improve to 5-6 on the year.
Smith's play, combined with a stellar defensive performance and a solid day from the special teams units, allowed the 49ers to get out to a 17-3 lead and control the game from there.
Jacksonville (6-5) outgained the 49ers 357-284 in total yards, but could not capitalize on their efforts.
On four occasions, the Jaguars were inside of the 49ers red zone and came away without a single touchdown. Two of the 49ers red zone stops were a result of two forced fumbles on Jaguars quarterback David Garrard. Jacksonville's only points came on a Josh Scobee 32-yard field goal late in the first half.
Mike Singletary was certainly pleased to see his defense dominate in the red zone and sack David Gerrard six times on the day, but was more enthused about the complete team effort by all three phases of the game.
"The thing that we wanted to accomplish – the thing that we have not done all year – is put a collective win together," the 49ers head coach said afterwards. "I think today collectively it was getting headed in the right direction in terms of the way we have to win."
Smith got the offense on the board first, by showcasing his athleticism on his two first-half touchdown throws. Both short passes came with Smith on the run.
"It was huge," defensive tackle Justin Smith said of the 49ers early offensive output. "When you're playing with the lead, good things happen. My hat goes off to those guys."
Smith's first toss from 3-yards out happened on a play-action bootleg where the signal caller rolled to his left and had nothing but open grass and his tight end Vernon Davis ahead of him.
Smith easily could have jogged into the end zone, but decided against it.
"I threw it, thought I could help out the quarterback rating," Smith said jokingly.
The touchdown pass certainly boosted the rating (he finished the game 27-of-41 for 232 yards with a rating of 96.8) and it also tied Davis with the most single-season touchdown catches by a 49ers tight end with Brent Jones (1994) and Ted Kwalick (1972).
"We talked about being more explosive as an offensive unit and this week we did spread it out a little more," center Eric Heitmann said. "We put the game in the hands of our playmakers and they did some amazing things out there for us today."
But the touchdown grab wasn't Davis' most important catch of the game. On a fourth-and-one with 1:58 left in the first half, Smith launched a deep ball down the left sideline for Davis who made a terrific leaping reception for a 30-yard gain.
It was simply a Pro Bowl-caliber catch for the tight end, who finished the game with six catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.
"That's this offense growing and being more confident," Smith said.
Three plays later, Smith scrambled again, this time to his right finding Gore in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown pass.
The Jaguars responded when Garrard completed four straight passes to set up Scobee's 32-yard attempt. But in the second half it was much of the same. The 49ers dominated the opening 30 minutes and did better in the final two quarters by holding Jacksonville scoreless.
The Jaguars came out throwing to open the second half and had the ball inside of 49ers territory, but Manny Lawson sacked Garrard inside of 49ers territory, knocking the ball loose in the process. Justin Smith was jolly on the spot, easily jumping on top of the ball giving it back to the 49ers.
The turnover was a crucial play in halting any of Jacksonville's momentum.
Smith continued to move the ball through the air even with a two-touchdown advantage. Thanks to his five completions, the 49ers added the only points of the second half, when Joe Nedney made his second field goal of the game.
The Jaguars continued to move the ball through the air down 17 points, but there was no choice but to move down the field in a hurry. Faced with a fourth-and-two from their own 13-yard line, head coach Jack Del Rio elected to go for it.
Del Rio's gutsy decision failed, as outside linebacker Parys Haralson met Garrard in the backfield along with Smith. The pair of 49ers defenders hit Garrard simultaneously, causing Garrard's second red zone fumble. Defensive tackle Ray McDonald dove on the loose ball.
"They were able to get some long drives on us, but our main thing was not let them in the end zone," Haralson said. "I think we were able to come up big on that end. They may have some drives on you, but you can't let them in the end zone."
Instead of making the game a two-possession contest, the Jaguars lost the ball and 20 yards on the play.
Their next trip to the red zone found the Jaguars facing fourth and goal from the 3-yard line, Scobee missed again, this time from 21-yards out as he hit the right upright square. It tied the shortest missed field goal in the NFL this season.
Facing a double digit deficit for most of the game, Jacksonville's running game became second fiddle.
"Anytime you get them in for sure passing situations it helps," defensive tackle Justin Smith said. "You don't have to worry about screen, draw or play-action, you just go after them. It was nice. Guys were getting rushes on them, so it was good."
Smith and company held Jones-Drew to 75 yards on 15 carries and came away with a newfound respect of the Jacksonville runner in the process.
"He's like tackling a trash can rolling down a hill," Smith said. "He's good. He's got a low center of gravity and his feet always keep churning forward. He kind of reminds me of Jamal Lewis when he was running in Baltimore."
After a solid performance against one of the NFL's best rushing teams, the 49ers understand that there's still a lot of work to be done. With the Arizona Cardinals losing to the Tennessee Titans, the 49ers only trail the Cardinals by two games with a head-to-head meeting still to be played at Candlestick Park.
Having said that, the focus of the 49ers players will remain the same as it was before the Jacksonville game.
"Coach talked about not stressing about 'we have to win, we have to win,'" linebacker Joe Staley said. "He stressed going out there and having fun and letting the chips fall where they may. That's what we're going to do."
Injury UpdatesRookie safety Curtis Taylor suffered a hip strain. Outside linebacker Parys Haralson suffered a finger contusion and defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer suffered a shoulder strain.