ST. LOUIS – On a night in which the Rams celebrated their famed “Greatest Show on Turf” squads, it was the 49ers wide receivers who were streaking down the sideline and celebrating in the end zone Monday.
Three receivers caught Colin Kaepernick touchdown passes in the 49ers’ 31-17 win, none of them bigger than Brandon Lloyd's 80 yarder at the end of the first half that seemed to wake the 49ers from an early slumber and silence a St. Louis crowd that had been growing increasingly confident an upset was in the works.
With 27 seconds left in the half, the 49ers were down 14-3 and were facing third and six deep in their own territory when Kaepernick looked up and found Lloyd speeding down the left sideline after he had put a double move on cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
Lloyd, 33, caught Kaepernick's pass in stride and then outran Jenkins – eight years his junior – for what turned out to be the longest pass of Kaepernick's career. Lloyd had an 89-yard touchdown in 2005 when he was with the 49ers and Tim Rattay was the team's quarterback.
Kaepernick nearly threw an interception on his first attempt of the game. But he recovered to have one of the best outings of his career, finishing with a 120.5 passer rating and 343 passing yards, the second most of his career. Kaepernick, whose first start was a Monday night win over the Bears, is now 4-0 in games played on Monday Night Football.
“He had some pointpoint throws, throws where he laid it in there perfectly,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I thought he was really on his game tonight.”
With the win, the 49ers (4-2) stayed within a half game of Arizona (4-1) for first place in the NFC West and are a half game ahead of Seattle (3-2), which lost at home to the Cowboys on Sunday.
Despite another sizable crowd cheering for them on the road, the 49ers lacked energy early, made mistakes and uncharacteristically gave up several big plays.
Rams quarterback Austin Davis hit tight end Jared Cook for 39 yards on St. Louis' opening drive, which led to a one-yard touchdown run by Benny Cunningham. St. Louis had three plays of 20 yards or more, all of them in the first quarter.
The 49ers, meanwhile, flubbed their biggest opportunity early on when tight end Vance McDonald caught a short pass, turned up field but lost the ball when he was hit by Rams free safety Rodney McLeod.
It didn't take St. Louis long to capitalize on the mistake.
Running back Tre Mason burst up the middle of the 49ers defense for 24 yards, the second longest run by an opposing tailback this year. Two plays later, cornerback Chris Culliver bit on a run fake, leaving tight end Lance Kendricks all alone in the end zone for an easy touchdown and a quick 14-0 Rams lead.
St. Louis, however, wouldn't score again until kicking a field goal with a little more than two minutes left in the game.
The 49ers began blitzing Davis, who was making the fourth start of his career, and unlike in previous outings, they put a number of hard hits on the opposing quarterback. The 49ers, who entered the game with five sacks on the season, had five against Davis, including two each by starting outside linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Dan Skuta.
“I've been saying for the past couple of weeks that our defense is getting used to playing with each other,” Skuta said. “We have a lot of new guys, and I think we're finally getting to the point where we know each other, and it's been huge to have everybody on the same page.”
If Kaepernick's throw to Lloyd pumped life into the 49ers in the first half, his 11-yard touchdown to Anquan Boldin continued the 49ers' surge in the second half.
The 49ers again were facing third down deep in St. Louis territory, and they thought they had the Rams fooled by sending left tackle Joe Staley – a one-time college tight end – into the flat. But Staley's opponent, Robert Quinn, seemed to sense what was coming and pulled Staley down, drawing a penalty.
“We had the look we wanted,” Staley said. “It would have been a touchdown. I just had to get a release.”
Kaepernick sidestepped the rush and then floated a pass over Jenkins' outstretched arm to Boldin in the back of the end zone.
Kaepernick said he saw Staley get tackled but didn't see the flag come in.
“I didn't know it was a free play, but I'll give Anquan a shot any day of the week,” he said.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.