The Dallas Cowboys turned out to be the perfect cure for everything that ailed the 49ers.
The 49ers spent the offseason entangled in criminal issues, every expert thought their depleted defense would be a dud, and just a few hours before the game, a national report surfaced that veteran players had begun to turn on coach Jim Harbaugh.
One fumble recovery for a touchdown and a quick-strike score by the offense, however, and all was absolved, at least for a little while.
“I think this game was about steel in the spine, and when it comes to 49ers players, that’s where they excel,” Harbaugh said of his team’s 28-17 win. “They’ve got titanium in the spine.”
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was one of several players who said the 49ers couldn’t wait for the regular season to begin so they could put the offseason – and all the chatter and speculation that comes with it – behind them.
Kaepernick also was eager to show off an invigorated passing attack, which finished 30th in the league last season.
He began right away, completing three consecutive passes on the team’s opening drive, including a 37-yarder to wide receiver Anquan Boldin and a 29-yard touchdown to tight end Vernon Davis.
The 49ers’ second offensive drive began on Dallas’ 2-yard line thanks to an interception return by safety Eric Reid. On first and goal, Kaepernick again hit Davis in the end zone.
The past three seasons, no team has run the ball as much as the 49ers. With 4:25 remaining in the first quarter, however, they were ahead 21-3 and hadn’t run the ball.
On the opening drive, it was noted that Kaepernick hit his second and third options on his two longest passes.
“Yes, I can go through progressions,” he said, his smile addressing his biggest criticism from the previous two seasons.
The defense also sent a message to its naysayers.
The 49ers entered the game without two of their top defenders: linebackers NaVorro Bowman, recovering from a torn ACL, and Aldon Smith, who is serving a nine-game suspension. Another starter, left defensive end Ray McDonald, is being investigated on suspicion of domestic abuse and faces a possible suspension. McDonald started the game and finished with three tackles.
One of Smith’s substitutes, Dan Skuta, swung the momentum to the 49ers early when he stripped running back DeMarco Murray after a short gain. Cornerback Chris Culliver picked up the loose ball and raced untouched for a 35-yard score.
Culliver and the team’s other starting cornerback, Tramaine Brock, left in the first quarter because of injuries. But it didn’t seem to matter. The 49ers forced four turnovers and sacked quarterback Tony Romo three times.
“This was one of those mishmash type of days, especially with some injuries early,” defensive end Justin Smith said. “We were able to come through and get a win.”
Smith, offensive tackle Joe Staley and linebacker Patrick Willis were among the veterans who disputed an NFL.com report that the team no longer was behind Harbaugh and was unsure of his commitment to the 49ers given that he has yet to agree on a contract extension.
Harbaugh’s current deal, which pays him $5 million a season, goes through the 2015 season.
“He’s a great coach,” said running back Frank Gore, another respected veteran. “He’s very competitive. He loves to compete and he wants to win.”
Harbaugh once referred to what he considered a false national report as “gobble, gobble, gobble, turkey, funk-jive.” He didn’t use nearly as colorful a description Sunday, but he made clear what he thought of the notion the 49ers were coming unglued.
“Sometimes people hate you. Sometimes people love you. A lot of times they don’t even know you,” he said. “Some people think you’re good. Some people think you’re bad. That’s opinion. That’s talk. This was a game.”