San Francisco 49ers Send a Few Messages in Prime Time
I think we can all agree that last night's victory was a statement for the 49ers, right?
I mean, a 20-3 win on Monday Night Football against one of the most consistently competitive teams of recent years has to count for something, even to those out there who still don't believe in this team.
But really, what sort of statement did they make?
Looking at this game objectively, there is quite a lot of surface information to be examined: historic defensive streaks, playoff seeding, injuries and more. However, when fitting this game into the overall arc of San Fransisco's season, this game may have bigger implications than most people realize.
Indeed, San Fransisco may have made a number of statements last night.
San Fransisco Can Beat Baltimore
Leading up to the Baltimore game, plenty of people had reservations about San Fransisco's chances. After all, as we all heard, travelling across the country on a short week to play one of the best teams in the AFC is no easy task.
In a result that was apparently only surprising to us die-hard Niners fans, not only did San Francisco lose 16-3, but Alex Smith got the crap kicked out him while the running backs looked like they were sprinting into a purple and black brick wall.
People started to (perhaps justifiably) doubt San Francisco, especially once they lost to Arizona two weeks later.
However, the Steelers had a few extra days to prepare and heal up for this trip, not to mention a sizable fan presence, and they still got floored.
We've now seen what the 49ers can do on their own terms. This was in no way a close game, and the lead could have been a lot bigger, but once they had a two-score lead the Niners backed off and stuck to their Frank Gore-less run game.
If by some stroke of luck Super Bowl XLVI turns out to be the site of Har-bowl II, the San Francisco 49ers will win on neutral ground.
The offensive line will do a better job of protecting Alex Smith, who showed what he can do when he has time in the pocket on that touchdown pass to Vernon Davis in the third quarter.
Why is this relevant, you ask? Well, I would have to answer with this:
San Francisco Will Secure the Second Seed in the NFC
Being that I am a Canadian living on the opposite side of the continent, I have only ever been able to watch the 49ers on TV. That said, I also watch other sports pretty much year-round, and let me tell you, from where I was sitting, that looked like a playoff game last night.
In my (relatively) short time watching football, that was the most fired-up I've seen Candlestick Park. It was buzzing from the get-go, and exploded whenever the Niners put up a touchdown.
In a pure test of character, San Francisco has to travel to divisional rival Seattle and play in one of the most intimidating stadiums in the league. As such, you'd better believe that Coach Harbaugh is going into this like another playoff game, only now he'll be on the road.
This team has a chance to prove that not only was the Baltimore game a fluke, but that they can travel into hostile territory and win. The Seahawks have been hot lately, and if the 49ers can flatten them as efficiently as they did the Steelers, they will go into the playoffs a real threat.
After travelling to Arizona and losing, people naturally have reservations about San Fransisco's chances on the road, but remember the following:
San Francisco Is a Legit Contender
How can they not be, really?
Last night was a pure butt-kicking from start to finish, and there is no way a reasonable person can blame the Steelers' loss entirely on injuries.
After the 49ers lost two of their last three games, the skeptics were not afraid to proclaim their distrust in the Red and Gold. Those losses are behind them now, though, and the 49ers are obviously learning from their mistakes.
The O-line has stepped up, and that is allowing Smith to find his rhythm. With or without Harrison, the Steelers have a stout defence, but they could not keep up with the 49ers executing at top speed.
In a quarterback-driven league, people are sometimes quick to dismiss teams with lacklustre signal-callers (especially when that signal-caller's name is Alex Smith). The fact of the matter is, though, that the 49ers are a team-driven team.
How else would I know Blake Costanzo's name?
The 49ers have the best run defence in the league if not one of the best defences altogether (nightmare-inducing front-seven and a ball-hawking secondary), their special teams is consistently producing behind two of the best kickers in the league and the offence is consistently improving.
This team looks real, people!
Truth be told, I've been waiting for this game all season.
San Francisco hasn't made a big statement since their win over Detroit, and in the last few weeks I've found myself feeling a lot like I did for much of last season. Needless to say I was absolutely pumped after last night's game. Any doubts I may have had disappeared as soon as that clock hit zero.
Last night we all got to see 60 minutes of the team we've been expecting for the last few years, and it was grand. A decent playoff run is necessary for the 49ers right now, regardless of how it comes out.
Right now, it's impossible to be a 49ers fan and not have total faith. Luckily for us, if last night is any indication, we may be rooting for one of the most complete teams in the NFL.