(Paul Sakuma ~ Associated Press)
SAN FRANCISCO -- Vernon Davis pulled on a black "NFC West champions" hat to dress up his suit and tie for a snazzy night on the town with some San Francisco offensive teammates. They were off for a celebratory steak dinner at one of the city's hotspots.
The meal -- for Davis, Frank Gore, Alex Smith and many others -- had been years in the making. Seven, to be exact, for Gore and Smith, and six for Davis. Star linebacker Patrick Willis, he's been waiting five.
The 49ers trounced the beat-up St. Louis Rams 26-0 on Sunday to become the NFL's second team to secure a playoff berth behind unbeaten defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay. Jim Harbaugh's focused bunch wrapped up that long-awaited division title for a once-proud franchise determined to return to the glory days of Jerry Rice and Joe Montana, Steve Young and Roger Craig.
The 49ers are NFC West champs and back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Harbaugh delivered the quick transformation the 49ers were looking for when they hired him in January. Not even a lockout could slow him down.
Left tackle Joe Staley delivered the Gatordade dousing on Harbaugh's head in the closing moments -- sneaking up on the coach at the two-minute warning. Or so he thought. Harbaugh, a 15-year NFL quarterback himself in his day, dodged out of the way to avoid being fully soaked.
"This step, this game today is for all those strong and mighty men who have been carrying the flag for this many years," Harbaugh said. "Each year that they've been here, thinking that was going to be the year, the year we go to the playoffs ... and there's disappointment when you don't make that."
Gore helped run San Francisco (10-2) right into the postseason, becoming the 49ers' career rushing leader by passing late Hall of Famer Joe Perry and finishing with 73 yards.
(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
The only downer came when Willis left the game in the first half with a right hamstring injury that Harbaugh said is not consider serious.
Rams quarterback A.J. Feeley struggled in place of injured starter Sam Bradford for the reeling Rams (2-10), who watched several more key players go down.
Even Feeley needed X-rays afterward on his right thumb.
"It's kind of the same story we've had all year. We just can't seem to put anything together," Feeley said. "It's like a clock where everybody's got to be in sync. When that doesn't happen, you put yourself in a tough situation."
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
San Francisco shut out an opponent for the first time since a 35-0 home win at Candlestick Park on Oct. 4, 2009. That was also the Rams' last shutout.
The Niners also avenged a late-season loss from 2010 that was still plenty fresh. They had won five straight before losing at St. Louis in the second-to-last week. Former coach Mike Singletary was fired after that game, which led to the high-profile hiring of Harbaugh.
San Francisco's impressive season might help shed that "NFC Worst" stigma from the West.
"It's not a Hollywood team," Harbaugh said. "It's a blue-collar team."
(Marcio Jose Sanchez ~ Associated Press)
Gore ran for 2 yards early in the second quarter to give him 7,345 career yards rushing, moving him past Perry (7,344) for most in franchise history.
The 28-year-old Gore, a two-time Pro Bowl selection in his seventh NFL season, has said it was a goal for this season to become the career rushing leader -- though getting to the playoffs for the first time has always been the top priority.
"There've been some tough years here," Gore said. "To get an opportunity to get to the postseason and to get it early, that's a blessing."
Gore and his teammates are wearing No. 34 helmet decals this season in honor of Perry, the first player with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and nicknamed "The Jet" for his sensational speed. He died in April at age 84.
Akers kicked field goals of 36 and 19 yards then booted a 28-yarder 1 minute, 41 seconds before halftime for his 31st of the year, topping Jeff Wilkins' single-season franchise mark of 30 set in 1996.
That gave the 49ers nine field goals -- with only three TDs -- in their last 14 trips to the red zone before Crabtree's TD catch. Akers kicked a 34-yarder in the third quarter.
Steven Jackson and Jerious Norwood each had 19 yards rushing while the Rams (2-10) were held to a meager 1.3 yards per carry.
"We knew we were facing a team that was looking to clinch the NFC West, so we knew we were going to get their best," Jackson said. "Our defense did a really good job in the first half but overall, (the 49ers) were able to make plays, come up big in defensive situations and eventually they were able to crack it open."
* Rams guard Jacob Bell (right knee) left and didn't return.
* The Niners are unbeaten in their last 10 home games vs. NFC West.
* Niners rookie Aldon Smith, a former Missouri standout, also had two sacks.
* Rams defensive end Chris Long had a sack for the sixth consecutive game.