SAN FRANCISCO – Michael Crabtree made his season debut on Sunday, but Anquan Boldin remained as the 49ers’ No. 1 wide receiver for at least another week and Vernon Davis helped the team clear another hurdle.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick looked for Boldin and Davis, as the 49ers scored on their first three possessions and rolled to an easy 23-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers improved to 8-4 on the season and strengthened their hold on the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs with the Arizona Cardinals’ 24-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cardinals fell to 7-5.
Boldin kept four drives alive with plays on third downs, which included two receptions and two plays on which St. Louis defenders were called for penalties against him. Boldin had six catches for 67 yards in the first half. His 16-yard reception on a third-and-15 play, set up Frank Gore’s 3-yard touchdown run.
Boldin finished with 9 receptions for 98 yards.
The game featured the return of Crabtree, who sustained a torn right Achilles tendon during the 49ers’ offseason program in May. He suited up for the first time after four weeks of practices. The 49ers added him to the active roster on Tuesday. He returned to the starting lineup.
Crabtree was mostly quiet through three quarters, though his presence did appear to draw some coverage to his side and open things up for Boldin and Davis. Crabtree finally got involved when he ran a double-move against Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson.
Kaepernick hit Crabtree in stride for a 60-yard gain down the right sideline. The big play was wasted a short time later, however, when Frank Gore fumbled.
Crabtree finished with 2 catches for 68 yards.
Kaepernick had his second strong showing in a row. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 275 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
High hurdler: Vernon Davis had a couple of notable encounters with Rams defensive backs, including a 17-yard touchdown pass on which he hurdled cornerback Janoris Jenkins at the goal line.
In the first half, he caught a pass from Kaepernick and hurdled Rodney McLeod for a 23-yard gain. In the third quarter, Davis had a 22-yard reception on which safety T.J. McDonald nearly pulled down Davis’ pants and also grabbed him in a sensitive spot. Davis was in obvious pain and had to sit out one play before returning to action.
Cowboy rides: Defensive lineman Justin Smith did not record a sack in the first half, but his ability to push the pocket led directly to sacks by Ray McDonald and NaVorro Bowman.
Smith toppled Kellen Clemens early in the game when he shoved a Rams offensive lineman into the quarterback. McDonald was there to touch Clemens and get credit for the sack. Later, Smith shoved left tackle Jake Long backward, forcing Clemens to evacuate the pocket. Bowman recorded the sack on that occasion.
Dawson’s streak: Kicker Phil Dawson extended his streak of consecutive made field goals to 16 when he made kicks from 32, 43 and 24 yards. Joe Nedney holds the club record with 18 straight made field goals from November 2006 through September 2007.
Dawson’s last missed attempt came on Sept. 26 when he missed a 71-yard fair catch kick against the St. Louis Rams at the end of the first half of play.
Injury concerns: Left tackle Joe Staley sustained a right knee injury in the first quarter and was immediately ruled out for the remainder of the game – a troubling sign for the two-time Pro Bowl player. With Staley out of the lineup and facing an uncertain future, the 49ers moved right guard Alex Boone to left tackle. Joe Looney took over at right guard. The 49ers were already playing with Adam Snyder filling in for left guard Mike Iupati, who has missed two games with a knee injury.
Tight end Vance McDonald missed most of the first half with a right ankle sprain. In his absence, Derek Carrier saw a lot of action. Backup tight end Garrett Celek missed his third consecutive game with a hamstring strain.
This ‘n’ that: Reserve running back Anthony Dixon thwarted the Rams’ attempt of a fake punt early in the fourth quarter when he got penetration and prevented Matt Giordano from handing off to Stedman Bailey on an end-around. Then, Dixon tackled Giordano for a 5-yard loss.
That play on special teams set up Davis’ 17-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick, which gave the 49ers a 23-6 lead.
LaMichael James muffed his second punt in two games. He recovered the loose ball to prevent a turnover, just as he did Monday night when he did not catch a punt cleanly against Washington. It was James’ fourth game as a punt returner after taking over those chores from Kyle Williams. . .
Cornerback Tarell Brown, who sustained internal damage with his ribs injury on Nov. 17 against the New Orleans Saints, missed his second game. Tramaine Brock started in place of Brown. The other 49ers inactive players were Celek, Iupati, wide receivers Quinton Patton and Jon Baldwin, and defensive linemen Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial.
The Rams scored their only touchdown of the game with :18 seconds remaining, against a 49ers defensive unit that consisted primarily of second-string players.