For the fifth time in as many weeks, the San Francisco 49ers scored 30-plus points as a team and ended the game in the win column.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and Co. did a great job of avoiding a trap game in London and keeping the pedal to metal through four quarters. There wasn’t a spot, at any time in the game, when the 49ers looked like they had hit a lull.
Despite the fact that offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s offense ran a mere 55 plays, it was able to score five touchdowns thanks in large part to an effective running game that tallied 221 yards on 38 carries and an impressive conversion rate on third down.
When it was all said and done, San Francisco completed six of its nine third-down attempts and was 5-of-5 of five in the red zone.
Even though it has been said in weeks past, this team has hit its stride with eight games left to play.
Offensively, the 49ers will only get better, as wide receivers Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree are set to make their 2013 debuts in the coming weeks. Manningham’s debut should come first against the Carolina Panthers, while Crabtree’s return probably won’t happen until late November.
With a clean bill of health less than a month away, is it safe to say that San Francisco’s season is shaping up to be better than it was in 2012?
Sure, that may be a bold statement based on the fact that the Niners were in the Super Bowl last season, but one could argue that Harbaugh’s club is more complete from top to bottom.
Not only are the 49ers winning games with key starters on the shelf, young players—especially on the defensive side of the ball—have answered the call when called upon. Rookie linebacker Corey Lemonier, rookie safety Eric Reid and cornerback Tramaine Brock have all established themselves as key cogs in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense.
According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brock has the team’s highest pass coverage grade, Lemonier has more quarterback hurries than any other linebacker on San Francisco’s roster and Reid has more defensive stops than any other member of the 49ers’ secondary.
The youngsters' outstanding play, and a glance at the schedule, makes me wonder whether or not this team can be stopped going forward.
Over the course of their final eight contests of the season, the 49ers will square off against the Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals.
Of those eight teams, the Panthers, Saints and Seahawks are the only ones who sport winning records. This means the Saints and Seahawks will pose the toughest matchups. Yes, it may be hard for the 49ers to win every game over the rest of the season, but the idea is not as far-fetched as you may think.
Since the beginning of the 2011 season, Coach Harbaugh has amassed a 5-2 record against New Orleans and Seattle. His two losses came on the road in the Pacific Northwest.
Even if the 49ers lose two more games to finish out the year, they will finish with a 12-4 record. Without a doubt, a 12-4 record would garner a playoff spot and possibly a first-round bye. However, their hopes of a first-round bye rest solely on how the Seahawks finish the season.
From now until Week 17, there’s a lot that could change. The NFL is an ever-changing league.
Based on this season’s trends for the 49ers, though, a majority of their injuries should be behind them. Let’s not forget, there’s a chance that sack artist Aldon Smith will return before the playoffs.
Good fortune seems to finally be in this team’s good graces.
It took awhile after a disastrous training camp period that was littered with injuries, but teams would rather face heavier doses of adversity early on in the season. Late-season adversity could mean there’s a shot you miss the playoffs entirely or lose in the first round.
Ever since pundits discounted San Francisco’s season after its 1-2 start, this team has been on an absolute roll.
Expect that roll to continue as the 49ers' quest for their sixth Lombardi Trophy is picking up steam heading into the bye week.