ST. LOUIS — Frank Gore followed Mike Iupati’s power block, broke into the open field and raced 34 yards for one of the sweetest touchdown runs ever by the 49ers’ all-time rushing leader.
As Gore celebrated by kissing his right biceps in “Kaepernicking” fashion, the 49ers found themselves with a 14-3 lead and on track to end a two-game losing streak.
That touchdown run by Gore — on fourth-and-1 with 37 seconds before halftime — highlighted his 153-yard night and the 49ers’ 35-11 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
Some of that spotlight deserved to shine on the 49ers defense, led by fiery linebacker NaVorro Bowman and an unflinching secondary. That overall unit certainly made do without three key players: Aldon Smith (on personal leave), Patrick Willis (groin injury) and Nnamdi Asomugha (right knee sprain).
Rather than fall further off the pace behind Seattle (3-0), the 49ers (2-2) won their first division road game since last October at Arizona, a stretch that included an overtime loss here and two defeats at Seattle.
Thursday’s victory also enhanced the 49ers’ playoff prospects. Since 1990, only 14 percent of teams that started a season 1-3 made it to the playoffs. The 49ers gladly joined the ranks of 2-2, where 36 percent of such teams have advanced to the postseason.
After being outscored 56-10 combined in blowout losses to the Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts, the 49ers bounced back with steady offensive plays, stingy defense and fewer penalties.
Gore’s 153 yards rushing matched the fifth-highest total of his storied career, and his most since December 2009 against Arizona (167 yards). He had 142 yards through the first three games.
Gore’s touchdown followed a replay reversal on his previous carry that robbed him of a 1-yard gain. That was Gore’s franchise-record 53rd rushing touchdown, and his 14th against the Rams, the most by anyone against them in their history.
In stark contrast, the Rams failed miserably running the ball, as starting tailback Daryl Richardson had 12 carries for 16 yards.
When the 49ers offense wasn’t flourishing behind Gore, Colin Kaepernick was usually playing catch with Anquan Boldin, Bruce Miller and Vernon Davis.
Kaepernick rebounded from two poor outings, and he seemingly iced the win with a 12-yard, third-quarter touchdown pass to Davis for a 21-3 lead. Anthony Dixon and Kendall Hunter ran for fourth-quarter touchdowns to erase any thoughts of the Rams forcing overtime for a third straight meeting.
The Rams struggled mightily running the ball, and their passing game wasn’t much better, including a Sam Bradford pass that got intercepted in the 49ers’ end zone by Donte Whitner.
Boldin put the 49ers ahead with a magnificent, 20-yard touchdown reception 6:22 before halftime. Facing third-and-19, Kaepernick found Boldin streaking open on the right side, and a replay review confirmed that Boldin did not veer out of bounds at the 2.
That score gave the 49ers their first lead since the season opener. And that Kaepernick-to-Boldin connection came through earlier that drive on a 42-yard completion on third-and-10.
Until those two plays, the 49ers had not converted all season on third down when they needed 10 yards or more. Lost among the touchdown drive’s impressive finish was its start: Gore’s 27-yard run to the 47-yard line.
The 49ers reeled off 28 unanswered points before the Rams found the end zone on Lance Kendricks’ 6-yard touchdown catch, followed by a two-point conversion run. Those scores came after a questionable penalty on Whitner for hitting a defenseless receiver (Chris Givens, who was trying to make a touchdown catch).
The 49ers fell behind 3-0 when Greg Zuerlein’s 40-yard field goal capped off the Rams’ second series, which opened with a 14-yard Bradford completion and a 15-yard face-mask penalty on Justin Smith against Bradford.