NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The San Francisco 49ers finally are starting to click like they did running to the Super Bowl last season. They’re not about to let their longest road trip of the year distract them now.
The 49ers start a two-game road trip Sunday when they visit Tennessee before heading on to London to play Jacksonville on Oct. 27. Colin Kaepernick says the Titans have all of the 49ers’ attention right now.
“They have a good defense, and that’s where our focus needs to be,” Kaepernick said.
San Francisco (4-2) has won three straight, including a 32-20 victory last week over Arizona when Frank Gore had just his second 100-yard rushing game this season and tight end Vernon Davis had 180 yards receiving. The defense also forced four turnovers, all leading to points.
Now, coach Jim Harbaugh wants his 49ers focused during this 11-day road trip and playing like they did handling back-to-back games in the East in 2011 and 2012.
“And that’s concentrating on taking care of our business today and handling that,” Harbaugh said.
The Titans (3-3) are desperate to snap a two-game skid before going into their bye, wanting some momentum as they wait for quarterback Jake Locker to return from a sprained right hip and knee. Locker returned to practice Wednesday, limited by both a limp and a brace on his knee.
Tennessee coach Mike Munchak hadn’t ruled out Locker, but wouldn’t declare Ryan Fitzpatrick as his starter either heading toward the game. Munchak said they must balance needing to win Sunday against giving Locker more time to recover with the bye looming.
“We have to be smart about it,” Munchak said. “If guys aren’t ready to play, there’s no way we’re going to put them out there. If they are ready, we’re going to put them out there.”
The Titans are second in the AFC South despite the skid, including losing 20-13 last week in Seattle. With Indianapolis hosting unbeaten Denver, a win could put Tennessee into a tie atop the division at the bye should the Colts fall.
“We need a win,” Titans tight end Delanie Walker said.
Here are five things to watch as the 49ers look to keep streaking against the Titans:
PROTECT THAT BALL: The 49ers are third in the NFL, scoring 61 points off 13 turnovers, and have forced eight in the past two games. The Titans are pretty good themselves with 13 takeaways turned into 59 points, and Tennessee also is second in the league with a plus-8 turnover margin. The Titans forced five fumbles last week, recovering two.
“They’re the best we’ve seen at clubbing, punching, stripping, lawn mowering, just lodging it out from opponents,” Harbaugh said. “It’s always a critical thing to our well-being to have ball security and not turn the ball over.”
DRAFT NIGHT MEMORIES: Kaepernick visited the Titans leading up to the 2011 draft and had a good feeling about the session. But Tennessee selected Locker out of Washington with the No. 8 overall pick, and Nevada star Kaepernick fell to San Francisco in the second round — as the sixth quarterback drafted overall.
“It’s something I definitely haven’t forgotten,” Kaepernick said. “I thought I was someone they were interested in. Whether it was then or later, I didn’t know, but it’s in the past now.”
Titans coach Mike Munchak enjoyed evaluating Kaepernick.
“We knew he’d be a special player because he has such a passion for the game,” Munchak said. “He’s so big and so athletic, so he’s been fun to watch. I’ve enjoyed watching him play.”
PRECIOUS POINTS: The Titans rank eighth in scoring defense, giving up 19.2 points a game, while the 49ers are ninth (19.7). Tennessee likely will be without middle linebacker Moise Fokou (left knee), who will be replaced by Colin McCarthy, a defensive captain a year ago. San Francisco is waiting to see how defensive tackles Glenn Dorsey (hamstring), Ray McDonald (biceps) and Justin Smith (shoulder) feel after not practicing.
NOT AGAIN: San Francisco is the sixth defense ranked in the Top 10 the Titans are facing this season. The 49ers rank ninth overall and are sixth against the pass. Tennessee has slumped to 29th averaging only 193.8 yards through the air.
MILESTONE: The Titans are celebrating the 150th game at LP Field with what they call a “Code Blue.” Instead of going with the light blue uniform used during the Code Blue promotion the past five years, the Titans will be wearing their dark blue jersey for the first time since 2008 — the last time they went to the playoffs.