The San Francisco 49ers ran their winning streak to five Sunday with a fairly pedestrian 20-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns. The game was essentially over by half time, which is how a lot of 49er games have been the past few years. This year, however, it is the opposing team’s fans who are throwing in the towel, not us.
The 49ers seemed content to just run out the clock the entire second half. They left the Browns in the game and sure enough Cleveland made it a one score sweaty affair in the fourth quarter. Then the 49ers did something they have not been able to do in years past, but are doing every week now — they methodically closed out the game with a clock eating drive which put them up by two scores and left Cleveland no time to get back in the contest.
The loss to the Cowboys in week two was the sort of demoralizing blown game that had become a staple of the franchise. It could have derailed the team’s confidence in the Jim Harbaugh mystique. Instead, it has marked the turning point. They have not lost a game since. And neither the defense nor the offense has faltered in crunch time.
The two highlight plays of the game almost seemed like comedic interludes, except that they were so effective. The pass to LT Joe Staley who rumbled 17 yards for a first down had everyone laughing except Browns fans. Then in the game closing drive there was nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga catching a swing pass and chunking ahead for 18 killer yards to put the Niners in field goal range. Again the immediate reaction was laughter. These two plays have a sort of arrogance and fun to them that is clearly contagious to the team’s spirit.
It’s Monday morning and I’m still laughing about these two plays. It reminds me of the strike game in 1987 against the Bill Parcells Giants, when Bill Walsh ran a single wing play and then stood on the 49er sideline looking across at Parcells and shrugging mischievously. Parcells was not amused, but that’s his problem. Walsh was tickled and so were we.
The 49ers are at 6-1 for the first time since 1998 — Steve Young’s last year and the year that marked the end of the nearly twenty years of dominant 49er football. In 1999, Young went down and so did the Niners. They still had enough talent for three more years of competitive football, but the end was inevitable and the dark ages soon came down upon the franchise.
It’s been longer than 1998 that the team has lacked edge pass rushers, but we now have two guys — Ahmad Brooks and rookie Aldon Smith — who are both on pace for double digit sack years. Brooks has 7 in seven games and Smith has 6.5. The league hasn’t much noticed these two guys yet, but they soon will.
Another week and another team wide victory. The 49ers don’t rely on any one individual to be dominant in order to win. That is what characterizes this Harbaugh enterprise and what bodes well for its continued success.