NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The San Francisco 49ers know how to start a very long road trip in winning style.
"This was a big game, and we were treating it like the biggest game of the season," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "It was our next game. This was Game 7 for us, and we were treating it like Game 7 for us, and we were treating it like Game 7 of the World Series or Game 7 of the Stanley Cup. Now the next game will be Game 8."
The Titans (3-4) lost their third straight even with Jake Locker starting after missing two games with a sprained right hip and knee. Locker threw for 326 yards, with two TD passes in a fourth-quarter spurt that came up short. Coach Mike Munchak defended the decision to start Locker, saying the quarterback was ready. Locker also ran three times for 29 yards.
"We felt comfortable he'd be able to protect himself," Munchak said. "I think he showed he could do that."
The Titans outgained the 49ers 368-349 in total offense only because of a frantic fourth quarter as they tried to rally. San Francisco still had a big edge in time of possession, holding the ball for more than 35 minutes, including the third quarter when the 49ers played keepaway for more than 11 minutes. Gore capped the opening drive of the third with his second TD for a 24-0 lead.
"I don't know how you define midseason form, but we have strung together a few wins and we feel pretty good about what we're doing right now," Kaepernick said.
Tennessee tried to make it interesting late in a finish that featured plenty of pushing and shoving. Even Harbaugh got an arm caught up in a scrum on the San Francisco sideline after Kaepernick dived in trying to recover what he and the Titans thought was a fumble.
"I was just trying to get them apart," Harbaugh said.
The 49ers were in control from the start with plenty of fans on hand, and they took advantage of Tennessee's 10 penalties for 100 yards. The most costly came when linebacker Akeem Ayers hit Kaepernick at the knees for an unnecessary roughness flag that wiped out an interception by safety Bernard Pollard. Three plays later, Kaepernick ran 20 yards for a TD and a 10-0 lead.
The Titans held Gore to 70 yards rushing on 24 carries, but he got into the end zone twice. They could not stop Kaepernick, who repeatedly kept drives alive in improving to 12-5 as a starter.
"He continues to get better every game since he's been playing," Harbaugh said. "He got a game ball last week and I thought he was very effective today both running and throwing. I can't say enough good things about him."
Locker hadn't been expected back before Nov. 3, when the Titans visit St. Louis after their bye. Playing with a knee brace, he hit seven of his first 10 passes for 80 yards. His best run was 16-yarder giving the Titans first-and-goal early in the fourth quarter when Locker put his head down diving forward. They wound up settling for a field goal.
"We found ways to stall drives out," Locker said. "I didn't think it was really us getting going. We've got to find ways to do that."
But Brock picked off an underthrown ball for the quarterback's first interception this season. The 49ers quickly converted that into a 1-yard TD run by Gore for a 17-0 lead just before halftime.
Notes: Brock now has three interceptions in three games. ... The 49ers now lead this series 8-5. ... The Titans had a video tribute to the late Bum Phillips and a moment of silence before the coin toss. Phillips coached this franchise to two AFC championship game appearances in the late 1970s as the then-Houston Oilers. ... Johnson now has three TD catches of 66 yards or longer and 11 TDs of 66 yards or longer in his career.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press