The San Francisco 49ers are back!
Sunday’s dramatic come back win over the Philadelphia Eagles was no fluke, ladies and gentlemen. This was a win by a team that suddenly came of age. A team that believed in itself finally providing the long sought evidence to back up their belief.
We’ve all heard the phrase “getting over the hump” used almost wistfully the past few years. That magical moment where a team surpasses the sum of its parts and arrives as a forceful NFL entity. We have seen that moment and it was beautiful. The end of the moral victories era marked by just barely losing, time after time.
It is on the road that NFL teams define their worthiness. Good teams win road games. Bad teams don’t. If you can’t win on the road, you can never be much more than an 8-8 team. The 49ers just won back to back road games on the east coast and that is not an accident. They won both games by fourth quarter comebacks where both the offense and the defense rose to the challenge. These guys are good.
And they are going to get better. We are only at the 4th game of the Jim Harbaugh era and already the results are coming in. Sunday’s second half offensive explosion was the kind of dynamic offense that fans have been only dreaming about these past six desultory years. And leading the way were two guys that people have tried to run out of town for the past two years: Alex Smith and Frank Gore. “Alex Smith and I came in together,” running back Frank Gore said. “He just needed a coach to believe in him and this coach does. This was a big game for him and for all of us because we know we can win.”
The highly touted offensive line, the one Joe Staley proclaimed (to much derision) didn’t “suck” didn’t suck indeed. They provided Smith with rare protection and destroyed the Eagles front seven in the second half. Rookie first round draft pick Aldon Smith had 1.5 sacks and would have had another if Ahmad Brooks hadn’t jumped offsides. The secondary was torched by the long ball, but was clutch in the red zone, forcing the Eagles to attempt three field goals, two of which failed. The linebacker duo of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman is fast becoming a wonder to behold — the best pair of inside LBs in the league. The Eagles league leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, gained a mere 18 yards. And Justin Smith’s incredible game-saving run down and strip of Jeremy Maclin showed why this guy is a true warrior.
This wasn’t a game where the stars aligned and everything went right, either. The Niners had to overcome a Smith fumble, several dropped passes, a missed field goal, and a blocked field goal. They had to overcome 400+ passing yards and 70+ rushing yards from Michael Vick. In the end, they did what previous teams have not been able to do — they ran out the clock with five straight rushing plays and two first downs that ate up the final two minutes.
The 49ers now lead the NFC West by two full games and are single-handedly giving relevance to this disrespected division. There are two tough games coming up — a home game against Tampa Bay and a road game against the 4-0 Detroit Lions who beat the Cowboys in Dallas Sunday. The team will not be favored in either game. But which of you fans are going to count them out before the kickoff? Not many. Not any more.