Niners notebook: A passing fancy?

Entering this season, the 49ers had been out-gained in the passing game in 26 consecutive games. So far, they have accumulated more yards than their opposition through the air in both games this season.

With a 1-1 record after a 20-13 victory Sunday over the St. Louis Rams, the 49ers are obviously a much-improved team than the unit that finished last season at 4-12.

"Look at the roster and overall we're vastly improved," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "Just look at the surrounding cast around Alex (Smith) right now."

The 49ers' best offensive player a year ago was receiver Brandon Lloyd, who accounted for 733 receiving yards. The 49ers were eager to get rid of Lloyd, eventually trading him to the Washington Redskins for third- and fourth-round draft picks.

Now, the 49ers have receiver Antonio Bryant, who has 245 yards receiving in two games and leads the NFL with a 30.6-yard average per reception, as well as Frank Gore as the team's featured back. Gore led the 49ers in rushing last season with 608 yards, but was playing as a backup to Kevan Barlow, who was also traded. Gore has 214 yards rushing to rank third in the NFL after two games and has produced 307 total yards and three touchdowns rushing and receiving.

The 49ers' offensive line is improved from a year ago, and tight end Vernon Davis, the No. 6 overall pick, has brought another speed element to the offense while also contributing as a blocker.

The 49ers opened the season with an encouraging 34-27 loss at the Cardinals, but their victory over the Rams was just what Nolan said his club needed.

"Success breeds success, so that's a good thing," Nolan said. "Late in the third quarter it dawned on me, whether we win or lose, we're playing a pretty good game. We're doing some good things. We got to do the things it takes to win. So if we had come out of without one, we would've been thinking, 'What's it going to take to get one?'"

The 49ers ranked last in the NFL in total offense and total defense last season. But through two games, the offense is among the best in the league, ranking sixth in total yardage. The 49ers rank first in the NFL in yards per play and Smith has not thrown an interception. The club ranks second in passing yards per play, and they've given up one sack in two games.

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After running back Frank Gore fumbled near the goal line in the second quarter against the Rams with San Francisco clinging to a 3-0 lead, 49ers running backs coach Bishop Harris had some words for the second-year back.

"He kind of got in my face," Gore said. But he said that his coach wasn't trying to fire him up. Instead, he wanted Gore to relax and stop trying to hit a home run on every play.

"He told me to remember on second down that we have another play," Gore said. Sure, enough Gore had other chances. He broke off a 32-yard TD run early in the second half to tie the score and begin a run of 14 consecutive San Francisco points that gave the 49ers the upper hand.

"They'd been over-shifting on the right side, and that was one time that Frank saw the cutback lane and he cut it way back," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "There was a crease on that one. And when you over-shift, that's the chance you take because if the ball does get backside, it's usually a big play."

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The 49ers overcame the loss of left tackle Jonas Jennings and left guard Larry Allen to post the victory over the Rams with a strong running game. The line also did not allow any sacks of Smith.

"Those guys did a great job," Smith said. "Everything starts with the guys up front. Everything. To lose those two starters and come back like they did, the guys worked extra hard to get ready this week to work as a unit. I can't say enough about them."

Nolan presented the offensive line with the game ball. Fill-in starters Adam Snyder and Tony Wragge both played well in the victory.

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Smith called the play in the huddle. Then, the play was changed. When the new play was called, Bryant liked what he heard.

"Meet me in the end zone," he told everyone else in the huddle.

Smith threw a perfect pass down the right sideline to Bryant, who got behind the Rams secondary for a 72-yard scoring pass. The touchdown gave the 49ers a lead they would never relinquish.


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