The NFL season the Bay Area wondered if they would ever see has arrived.
The gloom has been lifted. The joy has returned. The playoffs are certain for the Niners, probable for the Raiders.
It’s barely past the mid-point, with several weeks to go. Cliché: Anything can happen, but look what has happened: Success.
The warnings? “Danger lurks,” is the mantra of the 49ers rookie coach — rookie and wildly successful coach — Jim Harbaugh.
Danger has been lurking since the season began. So have the Niners and Raiders, lurking and winning.
On Thanksgiving Day, both the Niners and Raiders are atop their divisions. After years of doing too many things wrong, virtually everybody is doing something right.
Thank you Patrick Willis and Kamerion Wimbley.
Not since 2002 have either the Niners or Raiders had a winning season. Not since 2002 have either the Niners or Raiders been in the postseason.
Maybe not since 2002 has the fan base of the Niners or Raiders had such feelings of euphoria. Stadiums are full. Optimism is prevalent.
The Raiders and Niners are doing it with tough, no-nonsense, run-first, pass-second,knock-the-stuffing-out-of-the-opposition football.
Football long played by New England, Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Football now played by the Niners and Raiders, if not yet to the same high degree.
Football by teams whose quarterbacks — the Raiders’ Carson Palmer in 2003, Niners’ Alex Smith in 2005 — were the first players taken in their respective drafts, and you don’t have a chance in the NFL without a quarterback.
Football by teams whose head coaches — the Niners’ Jim Harbaugh, the Raiders’ Hue Jackson — both worked for late Oakland owner Al Davis — and don’t you know what Al thought of someone like Palmer who can throw 70 yards. Vertical offense, indeed.
Said Trent Dilfer, the ESPN analyst whose last job in the NFL was a backup QB for the pre-Harbaugh Niners, “Jim is a guy who believes in establishing the line of scrimmage, shortening the game and leading with the run.”
Especially when he has a healthy Frank Gore.
Said Jackson, “When you have the ability to run the ball, then people have to stop the run which gives you a chance to throw it ... I mean [the Raiders] have to run the ball really well here, and we know how to do that.”
They know how to do it with Darren McFadden, who briefly was leading the NFL in rushing.
They know how to do it with Michael Bush (two straight 100-yard games) after McFadden went out with a foot injury.
The rest of America didn’t know about the Raiders or Niners. They do now. After his first game as 49ers coach, the, 33-17 win over Seattle in September, Harbaugh said he couldn’t find one highlight of the victory on any of the channels.
“It just kind of documents what you know,” he said. “What the perception is of our team around the league and around the country.”
The perception has changed. When the Niners played, and defeated the New York Giants 27-20 a week and a half ago, Fox proclaimed it its “Game of the Week.”
The perception of the Raiders was of a group invariably blowing games at the end or whining about league conspiracies. Tuck rule, anyone?
But Davis’ death in October and the relentless style of Hue Jackson, working with Al’s son, Mark, and executive Amy Trask, brought a new gravitas. Those guys were serious.
If, in Jackson’s case, similar to Harbaugh’s, with a better-not-relax-against-us philosophy.
Jackson has gone for it on fourth-and-1, near the goal line, instead of kicking a field goal; calling a play with McFadden trying to pass. Harbaugh ordered for an onside kick with the score 6-6 against the Giants in the second quarter. It worked. Of course.Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ushering in a new era
|Super Bowl championships
|Last year played in a Super Bowl
||1995 (Beat San Diego 49-26)
||2003 (Lost to Tampa Bay 48-21)
|Last winning season and playoff appearance
|Franchise’s career playoff record