SAN FRANCISCO (AP)—For the last three miserable seasons, the Bay Area has been home to two bad NFL teams.
At least the San Francisco 49ers can prove they’re getting better.
Arnaz Battle caught two touchdown passes from Alex Smith, and the 49ers overcame Randy Moss’ 100th career TD reception with a strong second half in a 34-20 victory over the winless Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
Frank Gore rushed for a career-high 134 yards and third-string running back Maurice Hicks scored on a 33-yard screen pass for the rebuilding 49ers (2-3) as they rebounded emphatically from last week’s 41-0 loss at Kansas City. They also overcame a halftime deficit against the Raiders (0-4), who added another discouraging loss to their streak of 10 straight.
“It’s big to win the Battle of the Bay, but it’s bigger to get our season back on track,” said Battle, who had just three TDs in his previous 36 NFL games.
Walt Harris made three of San Francisco’s four interceptions, and the Niners scored 24 straight points after halftime to roll past their cross-water rivals in just the iconic franchises’ 11th regular-season meeting.
Such a rare occasion should be cause for excitement in Northern California, where pro football is the most popular sport. But these bragging rights aren’t worth much.
The teams are at perhaps the lowest collective point in their histories, with three straight losing seasons apiece and slow starts to this campaign— including the longest losing skid in Al Davis’ decades with the club.
But this meeting was entertaining even while Smith, Gore and the 49ers’ defense took charge in the second half.
“We’re improving almost every week, and I think this is just the start,” Harris said. “You can see us learning and getting better. We’ve had a lot of adversity, and we continue to work.”
The 49ers also won for offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who spent the last two years as Oakland’s head coach. Turner’s game plan worked well against his former Raiders, wearing down the defensive front with steady rushing before hitting a handful of big passes.
“I’m human, and I really (know) that the team always comes first, but there are personal things that come in, and it feels good,” said Turner, who got the game ball from coach Mike Nolan.
The Raiders added another awful week to their streak, struggling on offense and getting beaten physically on defense. They were finished off by another of the boneheaded mistakes that have occurred constantly during their second 0-4 start since 1964.
With 10 1/2 minutes to play, LaMont Jordan dropped a lateral pass from Andrew Walter and then stood watching as rookie lineman Melvin Oliver returned the free ball 12 yards for the score, putting San Francisco up 31-13.
“Yes, I’m disappointed. No, I did not expect to be at this particular point in the season,” said Raiders coach Art Shell. “I expected that we’d be much better and competing within our division. We’re not doing that right now.”
Walter threw two interceptions in his second career start and backup Marques Tuiasosopo added two more. Moss had five catches for 52 yards despite rarely running hard.
“I don’t see any improvement with what we’re doing,” defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. “We don’t make a play. We don’t make an adjustment to get momentum back on our side.”
Smith went 15-of-19 for 165 yards in the 2005 No. 1 pick’s fourth victory as a starter in the Niners’ last seven games. Gore had another outstanding game, also picking up 38 yards on three catches—and for the first time this season, he didn’t fumble.
Oakland went ahead 13-7 late in the second quarter, with Walter coolly directing an 81-yard drive ending in Moss’ 22-yard TD catch between two defenders 51 seconds before halftime. Moss, who has ripped the Raiders’ desire and speculated about being traded this season, is the seventh receiver in NFL history with 100 TD catches.
“There’s too many missed tackles,” said Oakland safety Stuart Schweigert, who made nine tackles. “The running back is going down the field, and I have to make the tackle 8 yards downfield. You can’t have that. … You can’t have your free safety leading the team in tackles.”
Oakland leads the series 6-5. … San Francisco LT Jonas Jennings sat out parts of the game with a sprained wrist … Courtney Anderson caught a TD pass from Tuiasosopo with 6:23 to play, just the second TD throw of the six-year backup’s career.