Niners head into bye on a first-place high

The 49ers head into their midseason bye week looking like the juggernaut they've been most of the year after their 24-3 dismantling of Arizona. That second consecutive victory over a NFC West challenger creates two games of separation between the defending champion Niners and the rest of the division, and it gives the team an entire week off for some R&R before the second-half stretch run begins.

Niners left tackle Joe Staley claims he caught quarterback and seatmate Alex Smith checking out his trending Twitter self while on the team plane awaiting takeoff Monday night from Arizona.

Ha, says Smith, who insists he has no idea how to tweet.

''I don't even have a Twitter,'' Smith quipped with a grin Tuesday during a quick walk through the empty locker room. ''I don't know what Twitter is.''

They can argue that one all they want, yet nobody will deny that Smith and the 49ers (6-2) have been downright dominant of late, including a 24-3 Monday Night Football rout of the Cardinals in a hostile road stadium.

In a near-perfect night, Smith completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. His passer rating: 157.1. It was one of several strong outings Smith has had this season, and it ended a two-game mini-slump of subpar performances by the eighth-year veteran.

Smith's stellar outing sparked coach Jim Harbaugh's now heard-everywhere ''gobble gobble'' remarks when asked about the confidence of his quarterback.

''Just gobble, gobble, gobble turkey. That paints a pretty good picture. He's a very confident guy,'' the coach said.

Following that up Tuesday, regarding the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick, Harbaugh said the reference was a quick way to sum up all the skepticism about Smith's abilities under center.

''I think anybody that watched a lot of TV shows in the '70s could relate to it, could understand it,'' he said. ''Sometimes, you get people talking and there's a lot of low content-to-word ratio. Got to call that out, I guess.''

Staley, for one, hadn't heard Harbaugh use the ''gobble gobble'' one before, but Harbaugh is always pulling out new catchphrases. Smith has long been criticized, even booed by his own home fans at Candlestick Park before leading the 49ers back to the postseason last year.

''Just a lot of talk, gobble gobble,'' Staley said. ''I don't think that's ever been an issue in the locker room, just people talking. He's won 19 games in the last two years and there's still questions if he's a leader of this football team. There are no questions in this locker room. He's our quarterback.''

He's also been a productive quarterback, hitting midseason as the NFL's No. 4-ranked quarterback with a passer rating of 102.1.

Suddenly, this season is looking an awful lot like that special 2011 run. Harbaugh's team is in command of the NFC West again as November nears, heading into their bye week on a roll.

And not to forget the stingy, top-ranked defense, which hasn't allowed a touchdown in four of the past five games.

''They're accomplishing some great things,'' Harbaugh said. ''That's really impressive, really hard to do in this league.''

And Smith is doing so much right on the other side of the ball.

He went 14 of 15 for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone against the Cardinals, connecting with Michael Crabtree on both TD tosses as the 49ers built a 17-0 halftime lead. Randy Moss caught a 47-yard TD pass, and Smith connected with nine receivers in all.

Not that anybody was tracking Smith's spot-on accuracy as he piled up the completions.

''I was not conscious of what his statistics were,'' Harbaugh said. ''Yeah, that registered, that he was on a hot streak.''

Crabtree wound up with five receptions for 72 yards.

''Guys made terrific plays after the catch, Crabtree especially,'' Staley said.

Now, they all get to rest.

A few weeks back, Harbaugh struck a deal with his players that for each win before the break he would give them an additional day off on top of the NFL's four-day mandate. San Francisco lost to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Oct. 14, then beat the Seahawks and Cardinals in a pair of divisional prime-time performances.

So, they are not due back in the building until next Tuesday – though many planned to stay around and work out at team headquarters.

''That was a deal we made – from the TV show 'Let's Make a Deal,' with Monty Hall,'' Harbaugh said. ''Not a lot of them knew who Monty Hall was or what the show was. Just wind back three weeks ago, we said for every win they get before the bye they would get one more day off than the four that you get under rule. They were good for it, we were good for it.''

Next up is a third consecutive divisional game – and another chance to create space in the West standings – against St. Louis on Nov. 11 at home.

It will be San Francisco's fourth home game in a run of five home games in a six-game stretch. The Niners follow with a key Monday night game against NFC North leader Chicago on Nov. 19, then will play four of their next five games after that on the road

The 49ers are pretty certain Smith will bring his best again when the Niners begin the second half of the season against the Rams.

''I believe it's possible Alex Smith was trending on Twitter, yes,'' joked long snapper Brian Jennings, who will enjoy some time this week with his wife and two sons, saying, ''They're all breaks for me. I'm a long snapper.''

NOTES: Staley will stick around this week and continue to work to regain strength – and get back over 300 pounds – after being limited in practice ahead of the Arizona game because of illness. He played against the Cardinals, but got out of breath, used an inhaler for the first time, and had oxygen on the sidelines. ''I was getting pretty tired as far as out of breath. It was harder for me to catch my wind,'' Staley said. ... TE Vernon Davis also plans to stay put in the Bay Area rather than try to get home to Washington, D.C., and deal with the problems from Superstorm Sandy.

NinersDigest.com Recommended Stories