SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Jim Harbaugh pulled his young quarterback aside last week to praise him for his professionalism and leadership during a rough patch for the reigning NFC champion 49ers.
The constant questions about Colin Kaepernick and San Francisco's sub-par passing game are gone for now after his stellar performance in Monday night's 27-6 victory at Washington - a must-win in the mind of the 49ers.
''I did comment to him in the middle of the week, Wednesday or Thursday that he was being exactly perfect - leadership and demeanor-wise,'' Harbaugh said after the game. ''A combination of loose and focused. Just the kind of leader that stands tall, works hard and has the right encouragement for his teammates. That stood out to me.''
Kaepernick threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns without an interception to finish with a career-best passer rating of 134.5 against the Redskins, while the 49ers moved to 11-0 with Kaepernick as the starter in games he posts a passer rating of 90.0 or better.
''This was a good step for us in the right direction,'' Kaepernick said, his typical succinct self. ''When you win it's always better. I made more throws today.''
Kaepernick threw five passes with two touchdowns to Anquan Boldin, and four completions each to Vernon Davis and Mario Manningham. Davis made a short touchdown reception in the third quarter.
A passing game that has struggled at last seemed in sync.
''Colin, he's been taking a lot of criticism, but one thing I like about Colin, he's always hanging in there. He's always fighting through adversity,'' Davis said. ''He's one of those guys who's tough. I don't know if I've ever seen anyone as tough as Colin, not just talking about the weight room tough, but emotionally. He's just a tough guy.''
And there's reason for further optimism for the receiving corps this week: Michael Crabtree was activated Tuesday from the physically unable to perform list with anticipation of him playing Sunday against St. Louis.
Crabtree, the Niners' top wideout during last season's Super Bowl run, returned to practice Nov. 5 for the first time since undergoing surgery in May on his torn right Achilles tendon. San Francisco had a 21-day window in which to activate him so he can play this season.
''He's a great player. He can make a lot of plays. I think everyone knows that,'' Kaepernick said of Crabtree. ''I wouldn't say a security blanket, but he is a playmaker for us.''
San Francisco waived quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson to clear roster room for Crabtree's return.
The 49ers (7-4), tied for second place in the NFC West with Arizona behind 10-1 Seattle, took Tuesday off after arriving home early in the morning following their cross-country flight. The team will reconvene Wednesday to start its preparation for the last-place Rams (5-6).
Kaepernick and the offense hope to build off their latest dominant performance, which came on the heels of two losses in which the team put added pressure on the defense with regular three-and-out series. San Francisco managed just 347 total yards in losing to Carolina at home and at New Orleans, while Kaepernick was sacked nine times.
''You've got to ask the people who were questioning him,'' Boldin said of criticism of the QB. ''We didn't lose confidence in ourselves. We know what we're capable of doing. If we come out and execute, you'll see the results.''
Kaepernick certainly seemed comfortable on the prime-time stage Monday - much like last November, when he made his first career start in place of the injured Alex Smith and led a 32-7 rout of the Chicago Bears at Candlestick Park for a key NFC win.
Yet the position the 49ers were in before Monday this time might have made this year's outing by Kaepernick even more meaningful than that one against the Bears.
''For the team, it had to happen,'' Harbaugh said. ''We came a long way to get it and it's been a lot of energy and toughness to get it and now we go to the next one. It's going to be like this every week.''
With December nearing and a playoff berth at stake every week, Harbaugh remains as confident as ever despite a pair of two-game losing streaks this year. The 49ers on Tuesday shared the third-year coach's postgame speech to his team:
''One team is going to emerge when it's all said and done,'' he said. ''It's going to be us.''
AP Sports Writer Joseph White in Washington contributed to this report.
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