ST. LOUIS -- Rather than fret over missing players, the 49ers defense thoroughly dominated the St. Louis Rams in Thursday night's 35-11 win.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman delivered one of his best games to help compensate for the absence of Patrick Willis, who didn't suit up because of a groin injury, snapping his streak of 25 consecutive games played.
"If a link gets taken out of a chain, someone has to step up," Bowman said. "Being a veteran guy, you have to think like that if you want to be the best. I was just playing my game."
Bowman's six tackles and two sacks were only a small sample of his dominance, and his second sack of Sam Bradford caused a fourth-quarter fumble. That set up the 49ers' fourth touchdown, a 1-yard run by Anthony Dixon.
Also missing from the 49ers defense were outside linebacker Aldon Smith (personal leave) and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who worked out gingerly before the game because of a right knee injury.
The secondary did its part in shutting down Bradford, including Donte Whitner's first interception of the season. Tarell Brown and Bowman dropped other potential interceptions.
Whitner's interception came on an acrobatic catch in the 49ers' end zone 3:45 before halftime, and it came on third-and-1 from the 34-yard line. Bradford attempted a deep pass to Brian Quick, and Tramaine Brock tipped it in the air for Whitner to make a diving grab.
Whitner nearly had an interception on the Rams' previous possession, but a Bradford pass bounced off Whitner's hands and into those of tight end Jared Cook for a 19-yard completion.
While Brock served as the No. 3 cornerback in place of Asomugha, new to the starting lineup were inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite (first career start) and outside linebacker Dan Skuta (fifth start in 60 career games). Bowman credited Wilhoite, Skuta and Demarcus Dobbs for fulfilling their assignments and making no communication errors.
-- Left tackle Joe Staley (leg), left guard Mike Iupati (shoulder) and cornerback Tarell Brown (undisclosed) took turns in the X-ray room post-game. No injuries are believed to be serious, although Staley's looked ominous when television cameras caught him screaming when he got hurt with 1:50 left. Staley tweeted afterward: "I'm good. And I scream like no dude should ever scream lol my bad."
-- Phil Dawson missed both his field-goal attempts: from 53 and 71 yards. Yes, 71 yards, on a rarely attempted free kick following a fair-catch punt to end the first half. Dawson came up several yards short but enjoyed trying.
"It's a little, unknown rule that our sideline was prepared for, and we thought we'd give it a try," said Dawson, who's never previously attempted one and noted how "weird" it was not to have opponents rushing as he kicked.
-- Smith, who checked into a rehab facility Monday, never had missed a game since his 2011 debut. The 49ers' sack leader entered a treatment facility Monday for substance abuse. "Let's do this #Niners," Smith tweeted just before kickoff.
Upon league review, Smith got credited for a sack on Sunday that initially was recorded as Justin Smith's. Aldon Smith now has 4 ½ sacks this season.
-- The 49ers defense produced a season-high five sacks, from Bowman (two), Ahmad Brooks (1 ½), Glenn Dorsey (one) and Justin Smith (1/2).
-- Rookie Quinton Patton injured his right foot on the final play of the first quarter. Patton had been playing as the No. 3 wide receiver, a role vacated with the inactivation of Marlon Moore.
-- Tavon Austin, the Rams' first-round draft, caught only 2-of-8 passes thrown to him for six yards, and he totaled only 19 yards on six punt returns. He also fumbled on a punt return (he recovered that strip by Anthony Dixon) and he dropped a third-down pass.
-- Running back LaMichael James was active after missing the first three games with a knee injury. James lost a yard on his first carry and finished with only two other carries for a total of zero yards.
-- Former Chiefs receiver Jon Baldwin suited up for the first time and his first catch resulted in a 15-yard, third-down conversion. He also had a 4-yard catch.
-- Fullback Bruce Miller injured his right knee on a 9-yard reception that opened the second half. Miller returned on the next series, however.
-- Rookie cornerback Darryl Morris debuted and, who got promoted Monday from the practice squad. Morris made the tackle on the first half's closing play: a 71-yard free kick by Phil Dawson that was fielded in the end zone by the Rams
-- Bubba Ventrone, who left Sunday's game with a concussion, played on the special teams units.
-- Unable to convert on third down their first three time, the 49ers did so on six of their remaining 12.
-- The 49ers won the Steve Patterson Award for Excellence in Sports Philanthropy, as announced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.