SAN FRANCISCO — Yes, the 49ers are back after dominating the Arizona Cardinals 23-7 at Candlestick Park Sunday for their eighth-straight win. The 49ers (9-1) are riding the wave of returning to the playoffs. It’s been a long dry spell for the Bay Area, with San Francisco and Oakland having fallen on hard times in recent years.
Combined, the 49ers and Oakland Raiders, who beat the Vikings 27-21 Sunday at Mall of America Field at the Metrodome, have captured eight Super Bowls. The 49ers have won five and the Raiders three; both teams currently are in first place in their respective Divisions.
Maybe, just maybe, they are on a collision course for Super Bowl XLVI with the Green Bay Packers mowing through the NFC North at 10-0, winners of 16 straight games over two years as defending Super Bowl Champions.
It’s important that we all remember we have a long way to go. Anything can happen, as we learned last year when the Packers, a wild card, went all the way.
The 49ers are playing smash-mouth power football under first-year Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, who tied former 49ers head coach Frank Siffert with the third-best start by a first-year head coach in NFL history at 9-1. The best starts by first-year head coaches are Jim Caldwell (2009, Indianapolis, 14-0 start) and Steve Mariucci, another ex-49er head coach (11-1 in 1997).
San Francisco is led by the power running of Frank Gore and the precision passing of quarterback Alex Smith as well as a rock-’em-sock-’em physical defense that’s led by tackle Justen Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis. The 49ers are No. 1 in the NFL in stopping the run and forcing turnovers.
Oakland quarterback Carlson Palmer Photo by Travis Lee
Sunday, the 49ers forced five Arizona turnovers; they are a +17 and have taken the ball away from opponents 26 times. They also, more importantly, lead the NFL in allowing the fewest points, 145, in 10 games.
In a span of eight days I’ve seen Green Bay dismantle the Vikings 45-7 and San Francisco dominate the Cardinals 23-7, considering the two teams are a combined 19-1. It’s a close race to secure the home-field advantage in the NFC for home-field advantage in the playoffs. Both teams are explosive, the Packers on offense and the 49ers on defense.
As I said before, we have a long way to go, but the picture is quite clear: Two teams, Green Bay and San Francisco, are heads up on everybody else in the NFC, while the AFC has the Oakland Raiders, leaders of the AFC West, challenging the 49ers again in the Bay Area.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, and on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm; he also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2), and you can follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.