LANDOVER, Md. -- Colin Kaepernick and Co. took baby steps Monday, which meant the 49ers organization moved forward for the first time in a long time.
It wasn't close to perfect offense, but it was way overdue, they knew it, and they acknowledged it in all the overt and subtle ways the 49ers communicate things these days.
Yard by yard, pass by pass, point by point, tackle by tackle, the 49ers dominated woeful Washington on the way to a 27-6 victory at FedEx Field.
And then afterward, some of the 49ers' statements and gestures were as telling as almost anything on the field.
"By any means necessary, you know?" coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Our guys, they rose up to the challenge and got it done. Needed it and got it."
The 49ers defense was dominant against Washington and Robert Griffin III, but the 49ers defense has been dominant quite consistently this season.
What the 49ers desperately needed was for their offense to reawaken after failing to gain 200 yards in either of the last two games -- both defeats -- and drawing more exasperation and frustration than at any point of the Harbaugh era.
On Monday, with Kaepernick facing a Washington defense loaded up against the run, the 49ers carved out 304 yards -- and Kaepernick had his most efficient game of the season.
Officially, his 134.5 passer rating was the highest of his career.
"I think this was a good step for us in the right direction," said Kaepernick, who completed 15 of 24 attempts for 235 yards and three touchdowns.
Of course, Kaepernick was typically -- or even additionally -- terse and cryptic speaking to the media about his breakout game.
Kaepernick said he hasn't heard or cared about any criticism directed at his play recently.
But during the game he showed extra emotion when he drew a penalty for spiking the ball after a tough run.
This game, after the two dismal losses and the 49ers basically falling out of favor and the NFC West race, meant a little more.
And Harbaugh underlined that by making an interesting point about his quarterback.
"I did comment to him in the middle of the week, Wednesday or Thursday, that he was just being exactly perfect leadership and demeanor-wise," Harbaugh said of Kaepernick.
"It was a combination of loose, focused. ... Just the kind of leader that stands tall and works extremely hard and has the right encouragement for his teammates.
"And that stood out to me."
The implication seemed clear: Kaepernick was terrific on Monday in part because he was so sharp and on point during the week of preparation.
Kaepernick threw several perfect passes to receiver Anquan Boldin -- two for touchdowns -- and looked calmer and bolder than he has probably since his Week 1 explosion against Green Bay.
And during the week of practices and meetings, maybe Kaepernick shook off the criticism and got stronger because of it.
Or at least Harbaugh noticed something.
"He wasn't uptight," Harbaugh said. "He was just the perfect blend. He was strong ...
"Some people have baby-deer skin. Some have armadillo skin. He's got the armadillo skin. It was just strong, good leadership."
Now this victory, again, was against a very poor Washington team that probably couldn't have scored a TD in three or four games combined against the 49ers defense.
And the 49ers are still only 7-4, still far behind Seattle in the division and still have several teams right on their heels for an NFC wild-card spot.
But the 49ers can't go anywhere unless their offense can move the ball, and they can't do that unless Kaepernick is taking steps of his own.
Some of that happened in this game -- in front of a national audience and in the 49ers' first Monday night appearance since Kaepernick's famous starting debut against Chicago last season.
"We didn't lose confidence in ourselves," Boldin said. "We know what we're capable of doing.
"We come out and execute I think you'll see the results, which is what we did tonight."
They didn't look like they were having a nervous breakdown every other snap, they were relatively organized and they made plays when the plays were there.
It wasn't a master class of offensive wizardry, but that wasn't at all necessary and is not where the 49ers offense is right now.
The 49ers just needed to move forward, get some things figured out and get their QB going again.
Kaepernick showed up, and now they can all sprint to the finish line with some confidence -- in themselves and in him.