And on the seventh weekend of the NFL season, the 49ers rested.
The 49ers’ body of work so far has been so off the charts, it defies anybody from saying they saw it coming.
The No. 2 defense in the league. Sweeping three games played in the Eastern Time Zone. A 2½-game lead in the division. Frank Gore looking as good as new. Alex Smith looking better than new.
This week’s bye week allows the Niners to take a breath and get used to their lofty position, because the last thing they can do at this point is overlook somebody — even though they still have two games each against the Cardinals and Rams.
But that’s fodder for next week.
The last four weeks have unfolded just like great sports stories unfold, adding a dose of momentum at each step. Last week, the 49ers reached a do-or-die moment against an unbeaten team, and flawlessly executed what it takes to win.
And it didn’t feel like a lightning bolt moment. Nothing like the high points reached by the teams coached by Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. Last Sunday felt like the logical next step in the return of the Niners to postseason contention.
Games remaining against the Ravens and Steelers will show how ready Harbaugh and these Niners will be for the postseason.
My favorite fact about the 49ers’ 5-1 record? The combined record of the five teams they’ve beaten, taking out losses to the 49ers, is 17-7. And 5-1 keeps anybody from wondering what would have happened if Harbaugh had taken that fourth-quarter penalty and the first down against the Cowboys.
I’ve watched the game-winning touchdown pass Smith threw to Delanie Walker last Sunday a couple of dozen times now, and I’m continually taken with how crisp the play is run. There wasn’t a hint it was fourth-and-goal. Or that there was 1:56 left in a game that had been a grind for most of the previous 58 minutes.
Sure, Smith gave 49ers fans a couple of here-we-go-again moments. The fumble early. The interception late. I didn’t love his third-down pass the play prior to the game-winner, but he got it done. Again.
It’s a week-by-week process, but Smith looks to be shedding all those years of bad habits.
“The kind of play that Alex has given us,” Jim Harbaugh said earlier this week, “really [is] indicative of our entire offense.
“I don’t think anybody played perfect on the offensive side of the ball in this game, but I thought they overcame adversity, got stronger as the game went on and didn’t flinch at crunch time. ... Really proud of Alex and the offensive unit for that.”
A rest well-earned.
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.