Harbaugh has the Niners clicking and connecting
The 49ers are headed to Motown with some serious mojo, taking with them the kind of winning momentum that hasn’t been seen in San Francisco for several years.
The Niners’ strong start and growing confidence has running back Frank Gore reflecting on his dominant days at the University of Miami. Cornerback Carlos Rogers also has to go back to his college career at Auburn to find a time when things were going this well.
“We're just rollin,''' Gore said Monday, a day after his second straight 100-yard rushing performance in a 48-3 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Quarterback Alex Smith and San Francisco's improving offense are piling up points – as in 62 the past six quarters – while timely plays by guys like Rogers on defense are creating extra scoring chances and positive field position, too.
Both sides of the ball and special teams have carried the division-leading 49ers to a surprising 4-1 start. Not to mention new kicker David Akers and reliable punter Andy Lee, who are also doing their parts in the ''process,'' as first-year coach Jim Harbaugh always refers to his team's 2011 journey.
The way things have started in the Harbaugh era, that might mean finally ending an eight-year playoff drought come January.
''We're not going to change, but we're going to strive to improve,'' Harbaugh said.
At this stage last season, the 49ers were 0-5 – the team's worst start since San Francisco dropped seven in a row to begin a 2-14 season in 1979, late Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh's first year.
''We ain't even touched the surface,'' tight end Delanie Walker said. ''There's still a lot we haven't done yet. It's early in the season – you're going to see a lot more coming. Alex is going to be the man. You're going to hear a lot more of them chanting 'Alex' after the game. Just wait and see. It's going to be a roller coaster ride.''
While Harbaugh is preaching humility, the 49ers are still riding high. A few postgame tweets from Sunday night tell it all.
Right tackle Anthony Davis (AnthonyDavis76): ''Good ol fashioned passionate (butt) whoopin.. lol.''
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree (KingCrab15): ''48-3...''
Beating the Lions on Sunday certainly won't come as easily. And there is sure to be some hype with Harbaugh headed back to the state where he starred for Michigan and was even wooed to be the Wolverines' new coach last winter but ultimately chose to leave Stanford for the 49ers instead.
His players are so glad he did. Most would say Harbaugh is earning every bit of that $25 million, five-year contract he received to lead a franchise that hasn't had a winning season or made the playoffs since 2002.
This 4-1 start is the best since that '02 team that won a playoff game but was later trounced 31-6 by Tampa Bay in the NFC divisional playoffs.
''It's truly different. I don't even like to go in the past,'' Walker said. ''It's a turnaround. I don't even want to say it's the players because we've got the same players from when I first came here. It's got to be the coaches. Coaches are doing a great job. It's just unbelievable. You can't even speak about it. We're moving on, we're looking to the future. That's why I've never liked to talk about the past. We're setting the standard of real 49ers football.''
Under Harbaugh, this group has shown it has a legitimate chance to win every week – even against contenders the Niners aren't supposed to beat. San Francisco easily could be undefeated had it not blown a late lead in a 27-24 overtime loss to the Cowboys on Sept. 18.
The offensive line is making strides, not allowing a sack Sunday for the second time this year and first since the season opener against Seattle.
Sunday's win marked the Niners' largest margin of victory since they blanked the Los Angeles Rams 48-0 on Dec. 27, 1987 – and it matched the Bucs' worst loss ever.
This impressive stretch began when San Francisco rallied from a 20-point third-quarter deficit to stun the Eagles 24-23 on Oct. 2. Smith went 21 of 33 for 291 yards and two touchdowns without an interception – completing 13 of 17 passes for 201 yards and two TDs in the second half.
Then, the 2005 No. 1 overall pick followed that up with another gem against the Bucs that Harbaugh called ''lights out.'' The coach turned to backup QB Colin Kaepernick to finish the game with a huge lead.
''I think our guys are understanding,'' Harbaugh said. ''For the most part, every guy is playing extremely hard, giving great effort. Those are the guys that are doing it. They're the ones that do it. Lot of credit to them.''
Gore and Rogers included.
After running for 127 yards and a touchdown on a bum right ankle against the Eagles, Gore gained 125 yards and scored another TD on Sunday.
Rogers made his third interception in as many games, returning this pick 31 yards for a touchdown. His play came moments after Gore had lost a fumble.
''It was interesting, too, because before Carlos went out, after we had fumbled the ball, I kind of turned around and there was Carlos and he said, 'Don't worry about it, we'll get it right back,''' Harbaugh said.
The seventh-year pro is taking advantage of a fresh start out West after six seasons with the Washington Redskins.
''It's going good. It's better than everybody thought,'' Rogers said. ''I always tell people we're supposed to be sorry. We're surprising everybody. But we don't want all the credit right now, we'll get the credit at the end of the season when we get to our ultimate goal.''
And the surge in that direction continues this week in Detroit.