Notable was a play by safety Donte Whitner that displayed 49ers' pride, honor, dignity. With the Rams driving late in the second quarter, the 49ers leading by a delicate four points, Whitner intercepted a pass from Sam Bradford at the goal line and fell into the end zone and killed the drive, killed the Rams' chance and gave the ball to the 49ers.

And the Niners took the ball Whitner gave them and drove for a touchdown. It was a statement interception and a statement score.

Here is Whitner on the interception: "I was in the middle of the field and saw the front shoulder dip from Bradford. It meant he was going for a deep ball. I was thinking, 'This is going to be a tipped ball right to me (from Tramaine Brock).' It actually happened. I wanted to get my arms around it and squeeze it as tight as I can and come down in bounds. It was a huge momentum swing for our football team."

And the 49ers also played offense.

It was efficient, maybe even dominating, also something we didn't see the previous two games.

And something else we didn't see was Colin Kaepernick making plays, taking charge, being the best quarterback on the field, although late in the third quarter he didn't see Vernon Davis and ran the ball four yards, and general manager Trent Baalke leaped from his chair in the press box and shrieked, "Throw the ball!"

In spite of that, Kaepernick had returned after a short unhappy sabbatical of two weeks and was dynamic. After the game, Frank Gore buttonholed Kaepernick and told him, "You're young. You've still got a lot of growing up to do. You'll be one of the top quarterbacks in the league."

Throw praise at Frank Gore. I had written him off, written his epitaph — prematurely.

He had a career game in the sense of showing grit and carrying the team on his strong back. He ran for 153 yards — a big number.

One play at the very end of the first half told it all, Gore taking the handoff on fourth and 1, Gore bursting through the line of scrimmage, shifting immediately into overdrive, running away from the coverage, his knees high and proud, the Rams' defenders mere spectators.

After the game, Harbaugh talked about Gore, Harbaugh grinning and giddy from winning this game, from winning any game.

He introduced Gore, who still wore his uniform and shoulder pads as if he lives in them, Harbaugh saying — bragging — "We've got Frank Gore and nobody does it better than Frank."

And then Gore spoke, addressed the idea he's old. "I don't care about the age thing," he said. "That keeps me motivated."

Someone asked if his touchdown run was his most special touchdown run. He puzzled over that. "My most special of my career?" he said. "I don't know. I've had a lot of touchdowns."

Right now you are thinking, "Sure, the 49ers looked good. They were playing the St. Louis Rams, the dregs of the Earth." Of course, they were playing the Rams and the Rams are the dregs. If you want to be flip you could call this The Inept Bowl between two teams who came into the game with 1-2 records.

The Rams couldn't play offense and the Rams couldn't play defense.

The Rams plain couldn't play. On the sideline you could see their coach Jeff Fisher screaming his head off, screaming at his players, screaming at the hardships of the NFL, screaming at the sheer unfairness of life.

And while the coach screamed, the home crowd booed their team and their coach from disappointment and frustration and disgust.

But this victory against the going-nowhere Rams meant so much to the Niners.

They could not beat the Rams last season when the Niners were younger and healthier and scarier.

This was a terrifying game for the 49ers, a game they absolutely had to win. If they had gone 1-3, well, goodbye division title, goodbye playoffs, goodbye proud team, and see you later, Super Bowl.

But they won a grim, hard game against a willing but limited opponent. They won. Every single win in the NFL is a great achievement, a temporary step away from the oblivion that is out there, its mouth open. And the 49ers, staring into the dark mouth, showed their pedigree against these underlings, refused to be identified as just another middling NFL team.

They won.

Their record is 2-2, stable and approaching respectable. Does this mean the 49ers are back, back to being a great team, the team we thought they were? It doesn't work like that. There is no such thing as instant redemption. Too much has happened to the 49ers, too much doubt has been sown.

But the 49ers are alive when they seemed to be dying. They are contending to contend. Everything still is possible.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.