SAN FRANCISCO -- After getting wide receiver Michael Crabtree back in the lineup Sunday for the first time since last season, the San Francisco 49ers believe they're ready to make a strong push toward another Super Bowl appearance.
Crabtree made his 2013 debut after missing the first 11 games with a torn right Achilles tendon suffered in May. He caught two passes for 68 yards in San Francisco's 23-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams, but his presence created room for wide receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis to operate.
Boldin caught nine passes for 98 yards, Davis grabbed four passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick passed for 275 yards and a score.
"It's about time he gets double teams," Boldin joked after the game. "When you have a guy like that on the other side, it definitely takes pressure off of you."
The 49ers (8-4) strengthened their position in the NFC wild-card race and pulled to within 2 1/2 games of 10-1 Seattle in the NFC West. After playing New Orleans on Monday night at Seattle, the Seahawks travel to San Francisco to face the 49ers. The Seahawks beat the 49ers 29-3 on Sept. 15 at Seattle.
Safety Donte Whitner said the 49ers are "very eager" for a rematch after getting "embarrassed" by the Seattle, and he believes they're ready to make a strong stretch run.
"I think we're built for this," Whitner said. "Last couple years have been pretty easy, 12-4, 13-3, going into postseason having bye weeks. This year we've faced some adversity. And history says that the team that faces adversity and gets hot at the right time has a good chance to win the Super Bowl.
"Defense is playing really good. We got a lot of weapons back on the offensive side of the football. So we're going to give them our best shot."
The 49ers won their second consecutive game, snapped the Rams' two-game winning streak and beat St. Louis (5-7) for the second time this season.
St. Louis had won back-to-back games over the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears by a combined score of 80-29, overpowering them on the ground. But the Rams' offense didn't hit its stride until it was too late Sunday against a 49ers defense that was ranked sixth in the NFL.
What the 49ers said
"It's a test of who we are as a football team, a test of our character. It's easy to play games when you know you pretty much have clinched your division and have a playoff berth. But this is a test of who we are as a football team. Our back is against the wall and every game matters. It's exciting, but you're nervous at the same time. You've got to make sure you go out there and get it done." -- LB Patrick Willis, on the 49ers needing a strong stretch run to make the playoffs.
What the Rams said
"We are just frustrated. We had a goal to come in here and stop the run, and I think we did that today. When you dare somebody to put it in (QB Colin) Kaepernick's hand, you got to make plays, and he made more plays than we did today. You have to tip your cap to him. They completed a ton of passes." -- LB James Laurinaitis.
What we learned about the 49ers
1. Even a rusty Michael Crabtree makes the 49ers' passing attack much more dangerous and explosive. Crabtree made his 2013 debut Sunday after missing the first 11 games with a torn right Achilles tendon suffered in May. He got off to a slow start, committing two penalties on the 49ers' first drive. But Crabtree wound up catching two passes for 68 yards, including a 60-yarder in the third quarter on a beautiful stop-and-go move that burned Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson. That's the longest reception by a 49ers wide receiver this season and the second-longest catch overall, behind only tight end Vernon Davis' 64-yarder. "Anytime that you can get a guy back who contributes heavily, it's always a great thing," Davis said. "Crabtree is a special player." With Crabtree attracting plenty of attention, 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught nine passes for 98 yards, and Davis caught four for 82 yards and a touchdown.
2. The 49ers' shutdown defense is hitting its stride at the right time. San Francisco has held four of its past five opponents to 13 or fewer points. The Rams offense came into the game Sunday on a roll, scoring 38 points in a victory against the Colts then 42 in a win against the Bears. The 49ers held St. Louis to 13 points, seven of those coming on a touchdown pass with 18 seconds left to play. "We have our pieces back," safety Donte Whitner said, pointing specifically to outside linebacker Aldon Smith and defensive tackle Ray McDonald. "Now we have everybody in sync."
What we learned about the Rams
1. The Rams aren't good enough to win a game of flag football. In the first half, when San Francisco built a 13-3 lead and took control, the Rams were penalized seven times for 60 yards. Many of those penalties helped extend 49ers scoring drives. "We just dug ourselves a hole early and couldn't get out of it," Rams defensive end Chris Long said. "There were a ton of flags. We just couldn't seem to get a break. We didn't create our own luck in that circumstance."
1. The Rams' playoff hopes went from slim to next-to-none, but they still have goals to accomplish in their final four games. "I still believe now that we have to be 9-7," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "That has to be our mentality. A winning season. We can't have it under .500 or anything like that. We have to think 9-7. It doesn't get any easier. We are going to Arizona now, and those guys are playing really well."