While the San Francisco 49ers have played well on both sides of the ball during their most successful stretch of the season, the Tennessee Titans' offense must improve if they are to end their slide.
The visiting 49ers look for a fourth consecutive victory while trying to hand the Titans, who are expected to start Jake Locker, a third straight defeat Sunday.
San Francisco (4-2) was outscored 56-10 in consecutive losses to Seattle and Indianapolis last month, but has since held a 101-34 scoring advantage while beating St. Louis, Houston and Arizona. The 49ers have won three in a row during a regular season for the first time since taking the final three of 2011.
"There's good things, there's encouraging things and we'll keep striving to get better," coach Jim Harbaugh said.
San Francisco has averaged 181.7 rushing yards during the winning streak after gaining 215 in its two losses.
Frank Gore has run for 417 yards and averaged 5.7 per carry in the last four games. He had 101 on 25 rushes during a 32-20 win over Arizona on Sunday, the second time in three games he's topped the 100-yard mark.
"You want to open those holes for (Gore) because he runs so hard," guard Mike Iupati said.
Colin Kaepernick has thrown five touchdowns and one interception over the last three contests after throwing four picks and no TDs against the Seahawks and Colts.
Both touchdown passes last Sunday went to tight end Vernon Davis, who made eight catches while matching a career high with 180 yards. Four of Davis' six TDs have come during the winning streak.
"I'm going to give Vernon his chances when I can," said Kaepernick, who engineered an 18-play, 89-yard touchdown drive that covered 9:32 of the second half against the Cardinals. "He makes a lot of great plays."
The 49ers have forced four turnovers in each of the last two games, and have 10 takeaways that they've turned into 54 points over the past three. They forced three through the first three contests.
"They're definitely doing a great job," Harbaugh said. "You looked at (the Arizona) game, the game before, the game before that, really, really outstanding in a lot of areas."
That likely does not bode well for Tennessee (3-3), which did not turn the ball over during a 3-1 start but has committed five in losses to Kansas City and Seattle while Ryan Fitzpatrick has started in place of the injured Locker.
"We are our own worst enemy," safety Bernard Pollard said. "We're beating ourselves. We've gone out there we've played really good football. The little things are beating us."
Locker was expected to miss a few weeks due to a hip injury suffered during a 38-13 win over the New York Jets on Sept. 29, and Nov. 3 at St. Louis had been the game he was anticipated to return.
However, Locker is expected to start this game after practicing this week and taking on a slight majority of the work Friday.
Locker threw six touchdowns and no picks in 3 1/2 games, but Fitzpatrick has been intercepted four times while throwing one TD in the last two weeks.
Getting Locker back should provide a much-needed boost for the Titans, whose offense ranks 29th with 302.2 yards per game and scored two touchdowns with Fitzpatrick as the starter.
Chris Johnson hasn't helped much by rushing 37 times for 71 yards in the last three games after he averaged 85.3 in the first three. Johnson and Fitzpatrick each ran for a team-leading 33 yards in a 20-13 loss at Seattle on Sunday.
Though the Titans have won the last two meetings between these teams - coming in 2009 and '05 - they've been outscored 156-47 during a four-game losing streak to NFC opponents.
San Francisco receiver Mario Manningham is back practicing for the first time since suffering a knee injury during a 42-13 loss at Seattle on Dec. 23. It's uncertain when a return to game action will come for Manningham, who had 42 receptions for 449 yards and one touchdown in 12 games last season.
Injured rookie defensive linemen Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial along with veteran defensive back Eric Wright also made their 2013 practice debuts this week. The timing of their returns is also uncertain.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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