Sunday couldn't have gone much better if you're the San Francisco 49ers.
After sputtering in two losses in Weeks 2 and 3, San Francisco has regained control of its season with two-straight dominating wins where they combined to outscore their opponents 69-14.
The previously undefeated Seattle Seahawks (4-1) lost their game in Indianapolis, putting them just a game ahead of the 3-2 49ers in the standings. The two NFC West heavyweights will face off against Dec. 8 at Candlestick after the Seahawks dominated their first meeting, 29-3.
Brock's Career Night
The 49ers were able to take advantage of a shaky Matt Schaub, picking him off three times, including a return for a touchdown by Tramaine Brock. Schaub now holds the woeful NFL record for consecutive weeks throwing a pick six, which moved to four Sunday night.
Brock, typically shy when it comes to speaking to the media, had plenty to say following his career night that included a pair of interceptions. His second probably should have been taken to the end zone as well, but an initial bobble allowed Andre Johnson to pull him out of bounds at Houston's 32-yard line.
Fortunately for San Francisco, the team was still able to score a touchdown on the short field. They scored 24 points off of four Texans turnovers and added another touchdown after Houston missed a 45-yard field goal.
"Every ball isn't caught cleanly," Brock said. "When I broke on the ball I knew that I had it but i didn't have it clean, so I just still tried to go with it and make the play."
Brock's strong performance came on the heels of another, as he's played at a higher level than the veteran he replace, Nnamdi Asomugha.
Asomugha was held out for the second week in a row while dealing with a knee injury suffered in Week 2's loss to the Colts. With two interceptions Sunday - and a deflection that led to Donte Whitner's interception in St. Louis - it would appear the third cornerback job is firmly his.
"I just want to make plays for the team and for myself. That's up to the coaches and organization," Brock said when asked about potentially earning the nickel corner job in the long term.
Brock is the second man up replacing the injured Chris Culliver, who tore an ACL early on in training camp.
Reserves Stepping Up
Brock's night is emblematic of a prevalent theme during the last two wins: players stepping up in place of key starters.
Patrick Willis was sidelined for the second game in a row with a groin injury. Michael Wilhoite played well in his absence, again, registering a team-high 11 tackles and three for loss.
"It just says we have guys two and three deep at so many positions that can come in and help the team and won't hurt the team," Wilhoite said.
"Guys can get hurt and we won't feel like we have nothing left, we don't know what to do. We have answers behind them and that's what you want."
Willis, an All-Pro, wasn't the only key member of the defensive front missing. Aldon Smith missed his second game after going on his indefinite leave of absence and was replaced by the combination of Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier.
Despite getting just one sack, the 49ers' front put enough pressure on Matt Schaub to force three key interceptions.
"I had a rush-drop read off of whatever block the offensive line gave...I dropped and the ball was right there," Jerod-Eddie said.
"We're still overcoming a lot of adversity," NaVorro Bowman said. "People think that we're so good that it's hard for them to see that."
The schedule is on San Francisco's side considering all the injuries. After opening the season with four playoff teams from 2012, they face the Cardinals, Titans (without their starting quarterback) and winless Jaguars the next three weeks leading into the bye.
After the 49ers host the Cardinals next week, Mario Manningham and Eric Wright are eligible to return to the team, providing more depth to areas of need. Manningham figures to plug right back into the starting lineup after Anquan Boldin was the only receiver to register a catch Sunday night.
Michael Crabtree will be eligible as well, but would likely come back later in November, or possibly Dec. 8's rematch against Seattle.
Patrick Willis ran sprints on the field prior to the game, but was a late scratch. With another week to recuperate, there's a good chance he could be on the field next week against Arizona.
The Return of the Running Game
Frank Gore had another big night even without putting up big yardage numbers. The 49ers totaled 177 yard on 36 carries (4.9 yard average) against the Texans, who came in with the No. 1 defense in the NFL in terms of yardage.
"That was probably the best front we've went though all year so far. My o-line stood up and they got the job done," Gore said.
"We're the 49ers. When we're on, we can do whatever we want to do. We just have to keep rolling, keep getting better each week...and we can do whatever we want."
The running game was uncharacteristically average over the season's first three weeks after San Francisco rode the league's third-best rushing attack to the Super Bowl in 2012. They combined to rush for 305 yards against the Packers, Seahawks and Colts.
In the last two wins against St. Louis and Houston, the 49ers have 319 yards.
-The 49ers lost out to the Texans in nearly every major offensive statistical category, except one: turnovers.
Coming into the game, San Francisco owned a -4 turnover differential. After Sunday, they've evened that number to 0 after forcing four without giving any away.
-The 49ers kick coverage teams were outstanding. Houston's average starting field position was their own 21-yard line while San Francisco started on their own 39. C.J. Spillman could be having a Pro-Bowl season for his work on kick off coverage and as a gunner.
-Eric Reid is earning his stripes quickly. The first-year safety was a stopped in the running game for most of the night, filling the Texan's signature cutback lanes. He finished with eight tackles. He was also strong in coverage.
-Jon Baldwin started the game as the No. 2 receiver, but saw his snaps decline quickly. He was targeted twice on streak plays down the right side, but didn't register a completion. He made a nice play early in the third quarter when he elevated over the defender to pluck the ball out of the air, but he couldn't get both feet in bounds.
It's tough to make any indictments on Baldwin given he didn't have any catches. Colin Kaepernick completed just six passes overall.
-San Francisco entered Sunday as the second-most penalized team in the NFL averaging nearly 10 flags a game. They had just three for 17 yards against Houston.
The 49ers more than doubled their running attempts over the pass and didn't Kaepernick to win the game with his arm. If San Francisco was unable to run the ball like they did, Kaepernick's struggles would be the big story leading into next week's game.
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