The playoffs are within reach and it's not a mirage.
The San Francisco 49ers have been in a drought of biblical proportions but are only a win away from having their thirst quenched.
Entering Sunday, they are 9-2 with a chance to clinch a spot in the postseason should they defeat the visiting St. Louis Rams.
Rewind to the conclusion of last year's tough season and nobody could've possibly predicted the 49ers would land where they are today.
So, what caused the speedy transformation?
Three simple words: a great offseason.
Here are the team's five best offseason moves.
This was the perfect hello-goodbye situation.
During the offseason, the San Francisco 49ers said hello to Rogers while saying goodbye to Clements.
And it paid off.
I haven’t seen a major upgrade like this since Tony Romo dropped Jessica Simpson for Candace Crawford.
Clements’ highlights were always quickly clouded by lowlights. His play in the final minutes of the Atlanta game last season sums it up perfectly. He makes a great interception, tries to do too much on the return, then fumbles it back to the Falcons.
All on the same play.
Rogers, however, has been consistently great. "Consistent" being the key word. Throughout his career, there have been concerns with his hands. Those concerns have been erased by the five interceptions this year.
Please tell whoever helped you solve your catching woes to get in contact with Ted Ginn Jr.
All 49ers fans
The acquisition of Carlos Rogers has been prodigious in transforming the 49ers into real contenders.
It’s not too often you see kickers appear on these sort of lists.
It’s also not too often a kicker makes all 6 of his attempts from 50-plus yards.
David Akers has done both this season.
A free agent during the offseason, Akers was signed by the 49ers to a three-year contract. The team has relied on him many times—probably more than fans would like—and he’s been clutch connecting on 28-of-33 overall on field goals and has converted all 24 of his point-after attempts.
That gives him 108 points, on pace to break San Francisco’s single-season points record that Jerry Rice set when he scored 138 in 1987.
It’s not too often you see a kicker mentioned in the same sentence as all-time great Jerry Rice.
David Akers has done that, too.
San Francisco did an exceptional job in free agency and may have done an even better job in the most recent draft.
Aldon Smith Rd. 1 Pick 7: Leads the team in sacks (7.5) despite playing mostly on 3rd downs. He’s a raw, pass-rush machine that is still developing into an every-down contributor. Has the potential to be a star in the mold of DeMarcus Ware.
Chris Culliver Rd. 3 Pick 80: “Experts” called this selection a “reach,” as Culliver played very little corner at South Carolina. However, he has been a quick learner and is contributing more each week while his playing time increases. Should eventually become a solid starting corner.
Kendall Hunter Rd. 4 Pick 115: Not only the team’s running back of the future, but the present also. Hunter has stepped in and immediately made big plays. He is quickly evolving into an all-around back and his pass protection abilities have been surprisingly impressive. Most importantly, his contributions have allowed the team to rest Gore for a playoff run.
Bruce Miller Rd. 7 Pick 211: One of the big steals in this year’s draft. Miller played DE/OLB in college, but the 49ers envisioned him as their next starting fullback. That vision is now a reality. Miller has seamlessly made the transition. He’s making blocks, catching balls and making the Niners staff look like geniuses.
A lot of these selections raised eyebrows, but those same selections are now raising smiles.
Some of the best moves made this offseason were the moves they never made.
Following last year’s disappointing season, fans were clamoring for significant roster changes.
Specifically at the quarterback position.
They chanted “We want Carr.”
They proclaimed Troy Smith “the future.”
They were unhappy and Alex Smith shouldered the blame.
Fans pleaded with the front office to pursue available free agents such as Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb. They were all supposed to be upgrades over the former No.1 pick.
11 games this season have transformed those boos into cheers.
Kolb has struggled mightily, was injured, and should return to action this Sunday.
McNabb was benched, eventually cut, and is now a free agent looking for work.
Smith, on the other hand, is performing admirably under new head coach, Jim Harbaugh. His stats are better than ever, he’s limiting mistakes, and the team is sitting comfortably atop their division with a 9-2 record.
And the number one move during the offseason was...
The hiring of Jim Harbaugh.
When Harbaugh was lured away from Stanford, San Francisco fans rejoiced but knew there was little hope for instant success. Especially with a shortened offseason.
It would surely take at least a couple years before they reaped any rewards.
Quite the contrary.
Harbaugh has miraculously turned water into wins. He is indeed the team’s savior.
And much like Lazarus, he’s bringing the 49ers back from the dead.
San Francisco is a storied franchise (5 Superbowl titles), but during the past 10 seasons the story has been a tragedy.
With Harbaugh in control though, things are different. The team is playing inspired, balanced football and it’s manifested in a 9-2 record.
Fans are no longer hoping to win; they’re expecting to win.
It’s a new, yet familiar feeling to those that have followed the team a long time. It’s nostalgia at it’s finest.
The secret recipe for instant success on the football field has been revealed: Just add Harbaugh.