San Francisco 49ers Make a Run for the Playoffs: Win or Go Home

Ryan DuncanContributor IIIDecember 1, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 29:  Head coach Mike Singletary of the San Francisco 49ers walks off the field following the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on November 29, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.  The 49ers defeated the Cardinals 27-6. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

After a strong finish in 2009, most football fans would have gladly put their money on the San Francisco 49ers to take the NFC West in 2010.  The team finished last season winning three of four, and giving themselves their first .500 season since Steve Mariucci and Jeff Garcia led them to a 10-6 record in 2002.

The balloon was quickly deflated as the 49ers dropped the first five games of the season, and six of the first seven.  Sitting last in the division at 1-6, the team traveled to Wembley, England and had the game that may have been the turning point for their season.

Coach Mike Singletary made a move at QB, giving Troy Smith his third career start, and first since 2007.  Smith didn't wow the masses, but he put up a very efficient performance with 196 yards passing and two scores.  He followed that up after their bye with a spectacular performance against the Rams, with over 360 yards and two more touchdowns.

Despite faltering against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 49ers picked up their fourth victory the next week in Arizona, a game in which the 49ers run game and defense stole the show.  

After Frank Gore went down in the first quarter, Brian Westbrook stepped in and quickly reminded everybody he could still play.  Rushing for 136 yards on 23 carries, Westbrook led a 49ers rushing attack that posted over 250 yards.  

The defense held Derek Anderson and the Cardinals to only 203 total yards of offense, and just 2/11 on 3rd down.  It was an absolutely dominating performance, as the 49ers embarrassed the Cardinals on Monday Night Football.  

In most divisions in the NFL, the 49ers would have been eliminated from playoff contention; however, after the 1-6 start, they find themselves one game out of first place, and very much alive in the NFC West.  The St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks should be getting worried right about now.  What once looked like a runaway race between these two teams has just gotten a little more interesting.

Although the 49ers are currently 4-7, their record is hardly indicative of the caliber of team they are.  They've lost four games by three points or less, including games against the Atlanta Falcons (9-2), New Orleans Saints (8-3), and Philadelphia Eagles (7-4)—three teams that are widely considered the favorites to represent the NFC.  

Based on their performance against the NFC's best, their remaining opponents should not take them lightly.  They take on the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field this Sunday in what will essentially be the first playoff game for the San Francisco 49ers.  They are by no means out of it just yet, but they are at the point of win or go home.  They could be dangerous to any team that takes them lightly.