San Francisco 49ers prove they’re for real 

click to enlarge On the rise: Niners fans have had plenty to cheer about this season, including two TDs by tight end Vernon Davis on Sunday. (Paul Sakuma/AP) - ON THE RISE: NINERS FANS HAVE HAD PLENTY TO CHEER ABOUT THIS SEASON, INCLUDING TWO TDS BY TIGHT END VERNON DAVIS ON SUNDAY. (PAUL SAKUMA/AP)
  • On the rise: Niners fans have had plenty to cheer about this season, including two TDs by tight end Vernon Davis on Sunday. (Paul Sakuma/AP)
  • On the rise: Niners fans have had plenty to cheer about this season, including two TDs by tight end Vernon Davis on Sunday. (Paul Sakuma/AP)

Do you believe in the 49ers now?

Last week, when I wrote that the comeback win over the Philadelphia Eagles was a turning point for the team, some readers chided me, pointing out that the collective record of the three teams the Niners had beaten was below .500.

But I try to look beyond the numbers for significant signs. Winning on the road, which the 49ers had done twice, is one. Coming back from nearly a three-touchdown deficit on the road, which the 49ers did against the Eagles, is even more significant.

And blowing out a good team, as the 49ers did against the Tampa Bay Bucs, is the most significant sign yet. In a way, it reminded me of how the 49ers blew out the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 season, which was the turning point for both teams.

The Cowboys’ dominance of the NFC was over and the 49ers’ was beginning.

The comparison is not exact. That 49ers team was heavily reliant on young players who got better; this team is getting better play from veteran players. They will need more help in the draft next spring, especially with their receivers corps.

But both the Eagles win and the blowout win on Sunday were proof that the players are really buying into the philosophy of coach Jim Harbaugh.

The similarities between Bill Walsh and Harbaugh are eerie. Walsh preached the importance of winning on the road. He paid attention to the smallest details. He didn’t deviate when he got media criticism, and he got plenty of that when his teams won only eight games in his first two seasons.

Harbaugh was also criticized for a conservative offense in the team’s first three games, but he wasn’t deterred. As Walsh always did, he stuck to his plan.

Now, the pieces are in place. Sunday’s game was a classic team win. A well-balanced offense ran and passed so successfully that the 49ers only had to punt once. The defense baffled Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman and intercepted him twice, one of which was returned for a touchdown. David Akers hit on both of his field goal attempts. Ted Ginn had two nice punt returns of 22 and 27 yards. Everything clicked.

The chief beneficiary of Harbaugh’s coaching has been quarterback Alex Smith, who has always had the skills to be an excellent quarterback, but never before had a head coach who understood quarterbacks.

Smith is playing under control, with only one interception in five games. In a KNBR (680 AM) interview last week, receiver Josh Morgan said Smith was the same quarterback he’d always been, but now he had a much better system. Ira Miller, who covered the 49ers in their glory years, was a press box visitor Sunday and, after Smith had hit a pinpoint pass to Delanie Walker for the first 49ers touchdown, Ira said to me, “Hmmm. Where have I seen that before? Four receivers running four routes.” We both knew where: When Walsh was the 49ers coach.

The 49ers will win the weak NFC West, and who knows how much further they’ll go? But there’s one indisputable fact: This team is a whole lot more fun to watch than any since 2002.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at glenndickey36@gmail.com.

 

GAME DAY

49ers vs. Lions

WHEN: Sunday, 10 a.m.
WHERE: Ford Field, Detroit
TV: Fox (KTVU, Ch. 2)
RADIO: KNBR (680 AM), KSAN (107.7 FM)

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Glenn Dickey

Glenn Dickey

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