AN FRANCISCO — Embattled Texans quarterback Matt Schaub might be better off hitting the road and getting out of Houston for the weekend.
Many of his so-called supporters are practically calling for his head. Or, at least, for backup T.J. Yates.
A big sign above one freeway blares “Cut Schaub!”
Fans burned Schaub’s jersey after the Texans (2-2) failed on two overtime opportunities in a demoralizing 23-20 home defeat to unbeaten Seattle last week.
“Any loss is painful and you don’t enjoy it,” defensive end J.J. Watt said. “We have a very good football team. There’s no issue with focus or intensity at all.”
Schaub has thrown pick-6s in three straight games.
“I don’t have time to really even process any of that because it’s on to the next one in our world,” Schaub said. “You don’t have time to look in the rearview mirror and think about your past, good or bad.”
Now, things get even tougher as they visit Candlestick Park to take on the San Francisco 49ers (2-2).
“We expect him to go out there and prepare for us all week as if his life relies on it,” 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. “Right now, if he goes out there and makes more mistakes, it probably will.”
San Francisco understands all the scrutiny and sense of panic from fans. It was crisis mode for the 49ers until they snapped a two-game losing streak with a 35-11 road rout of the Rams. That after being held to 10 total points in the first consecutive losses of coach Jim Harbaugh’s tenure.
“The fact of the matter in the National Football League is you lose a couple of games in a row, you’re in a rut, you’re in big trouble,” Whitner said. “They can say that about us a couple weeks ago when we lost a couple in a row, and it was true. Same thing goes for the Texans.”
Here are five things to watch for in Sunday’s prime-time matchup:
NO IDENTITY CRISIS HERE: Just when everybody began questioning the NFC champion Niners’ defense — a unit missing linebacker Aldon Smith as he undergoes treatment for substance abuse, and injured All-Pro Patrick Willis — the group came back with a big performance.
With NaVorro Bowman leading the way in Willis’ absence, San Francisco returned to that swarming, run-stopping defense that has defined the team in recent seasons.
Bowman had five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble against St. Louis.
“The last couple years that’s what this team has been built on, stopping the run and running the football,” defensive end Justin Smith said. “It just seems like that St. Louis game, that’s our calling card, that’s our identity.”
GORE ON A ROLL: Harbaugh is all about getting the ball to Frank Gore.
No criticism of his touches now. Not after the 49ers’ franchise rushing leader gained 153 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown at St. Louis.
Gore typically builds off a big game.
“I think it’s a positive. I think Frank knows who he is as a player and what he’s capable of,” Harbaugh said. “We know he’s capable of that. He knows he’s capable of that. And our offensive line knows he’s capable of that. No question that everybody’s inspired by what he does. Nobody does it like Frank Gore.”
MENACING MR. WATT: J.J. Watt has drawn comparisons to San Francisco counterpart Justin Smith for the way they each wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
Harbaugh’s assessment: “He can ruin a game for his opponent.”
This week, Watt is nursing a broken nose that needed six stitches.
“There’s going to be blood,” Watt said. “I’m not out here doing cheerleading.”
Watt certainly appreciates the compliments and comparisons with fellow All-Pro Smith.
“I have a lot of respect for Justin Smith, I love the way he plays the game, love the way he goes about his business,” Watt said.
PRIME-TIME FOLKS: These teams draw their share of prime-time opportunities. That’s how it goes for the two-time defending AFC South champion Texans and the two-time reigning NFC West champion Niners.
San Francisco has lost its last two Sunday night games, both at Seattle. The 49ers are playing their third prime-time contest in four games, while Houston makes its second such appearance of 2013.
“It’s a big game for us,” Schaub said. “We need to get those weeks out of our system and we need to get a win — whether it’s home, away, at a neutral site, against whoever.”
DAVIS’ HANDS: Vernon Davis remembers plenty from the last time the 49ers played Houston nearly four years ago. The tight end, then in his fourth NFL season, had his first three-touchdown game in the 24-21 loss.
Davis is San Francisco’s second-leading receiver this season behind Anquan Boldin, with 11 catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns.