SAN FRANCISCO The 49ers had played more than six quarters of the preseason without scoring a touchdown. Kendall Hunter changed that in about six seconds Saturday.
The rookie tailback took a handoff from the San Francisco 47-yard line and accelerated through the hole so quickly the Raiders defenders could only flail at his legs as he ran by for a 53-yard touchdown.
Hunter finished with 105 rushing yards on nine carries in the 49ers' 17-3 win, and they rushed for 239 yards as a team. Coach Jim Harbaugh said that total was a reflection of an offensive line that bounced back nicely from a wobbly performance last Friday in New Orleans.
"The way they handled the blitz pick-up, I thought, was a big improvement from last week," Harbaugh said.
The loss to the Saints was marked by big hits on the quarterback and plenty of punts.
Against the Raiders, the 49ers had more first downs on their opening possession (six) than they did in the first half against New Orleans (five).
Starting quarterback Alex Smith absorbed a tackle from Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly in the first quarter. The difference from New Orleans was he was able to hit a wide-open Joshua Morgan on the play, one of the 49ers' two big gains of the first half.
"You hear the roar (from the crowd), and you see the guy running with the ball, you feel OK," Smith said of taking the hit from Kelly.
Upon their return from New Orleans, the 49ers insisted their still-congealing offense simply needed more time.
Smith was sharper against the Raiders, connecting with five receivers for 126 yards before he was relieved by Colin Kaepernick just before the first half ended.
Newcomer Braylon Edwards didn't start the game, but he led all receivers with two catches for 46 yards. One of his receptions was a 32-yard, one-handed grab down the sideline on a nicely thrown pass by Smith.
That set up a 23-yard field goal by David Akers, whose history of oddball events in Candlestick Park continued Saturday. Akers' career field-goal percentage is 82 percent, but he had hit only 69 percent of his attempts as a visitor to San Francisco.
He has had one attempt blocked and returned for a touchdown. Another was tipped. And in one game, he went through three different holders.
The 49ers' opening drive went all the way to the Raiders' 2-yard line as Smith passed to Vernon Davis and Edwards for first downs, and Frank Gore and Anthony Dixon picked up big chunks of yardage on the ground.
But as Akers was attempting his first field goal at Candlestick Park as a 49er, the ball slipped out of holder Andy Lee's hands. Lee picked it up, attempted a throw and was tackled as he released it, injuring his hip.
Lee continued to hold throughout the game but was not healthy enough to punt. That duty fell to Akers, whose first attempt traveled a respectable 44 yards and was not returned. His second punt, however, was blocked when the 49ers didn't have enough men on the field.
Harbaugh said it appeared Lee's injury was not serious.
Another promising drive ended when Raiders defensive end Matt Shaughnessy dropped back into coverage and intercepted Smith's pass to Davis.
Smith said he thought the Raiders were in man-to-man coverage and didn't see Shaugnessy in his throwing window.
Said Smith: "If we want to be the team we're talking about being, we have to be efficient in the red zone, and we can't turn the ball over."
The 49ers' improvements against the blitz, meanwhile, extended to their smallest blocker.
Hunter got plenty of congratulations following his third-quarter touchdown run, but he got an even bigger reaction from running backs coach Tom Rathman later in the quarter when the 5-foot-7 tailback upended a blitzing Raiders safety.
Hunter said he wouldn't have even gotten on the field if he hadn't worked on his blitz pick-up skills.
"That's his biggest thing," Hunter said of Rathman. "If you can't block and you don't know your assignments, hey, tough luck."