Time to turn to run?

Enough of trying to air it out. After watching his passing attack continue to misfire Sunday - when Jeff Garcia twice failed to hit a wide-open Terrell Owens in stride with deep passes that would have gone for long TDs against Detroit - coach Dennis Erickson is considering a shift in emphasis to what has been working better on his beleaguered offense: The team's steady running game. Erickson said Monday the 49ers may turn to the ground to move forward as they enter a crucial stretch of schedule.

"Obviously, we are having much more success running the football with consistency," Erickson said. "We probably are becoming more of a run team. As we get our front (line) back now, maybe that is the case."

The 49ers have not found much rhythm in their passing game under Erickson, who arrived in February promising a more aggressive downfield approach. San Francisco has been carried instead by a rushing attack that has been the most consistent aspect of an offense that continued to sputter at times in Sunday's 24-17 victory over the Detroit Lions.

The 49ers rushed for 142 yards against Detroit, the fourth time in five games this season they've gained at least that many yards on the ground. It helped seal the deal against the Lions, who had rallied from a 17-point deficit to make it close at the end.

Despite ranking fifth in the NFL in total offense, based on total yards gained, the Niners are an uncharacteristic 16th in passing.

"Maybe I looked at it a little differently, trying to get the ball down the field and then run it as opposed to going the other direction with this team," Erickson said. "But I really believe that if we continue to become a good run team, then all of that other stuff going down the field will come into play."

The two missed opportunities for big connections between Garcia and Owens - which could have been thwarted by the gusty winds at 3Com Park - characterized the frustrations the Niners have been facing all season when they attempt to unleash their offense by passing downfield.

The 49ers couldn't put away the Lions with a quick strike. So they kept the ball away from them instead in the fourth quarter, using scrambles by Garcia and tough runs by tailbacks Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow behind the lead blocks of fullback Fred Beasley.

While gaining a game-high 74 yards rushing, Hearst became the fourth player to rush for 5,000 career yards with the 49ers. He also moved past Mike Pruitt into 31st place among the NFL's all-time leading career rushers with 7,410 yards.

"The biggest thing for me was the end of the game when we were able to run it and eat the clock and get first downs," Erickson said. "We ran it pretty well against their run defense. The veterans in that group really took it upon themselves in the last couple of drives to run the football. That had a heck of a lot to do with our success."

Erickson will consider a shift to a more run-oriented philosophy with his team facing each of its three NFC West division foes in the next month. That stretch begins with Sunday night's game in Seattle against the division-leading Seahawks. The other team the Niners face during that span is defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay, which has the league's No. 1-rated defense but is ranked only 15th against the run.

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