For the first time since 1995, the San Francisco 49ers have won five-straight games by double digits.
Considering where this team was after Week 3, when Jed York announced Aldon Smith's indefinite leave of absence following the team's first ever two-game losing streak under Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco is in good shape.
That "good" would be upgraded to "great" had the team come away with more than one win (Packers) against their three opponents that are over .500.
At 6-2 through eight games, the 49ers are one of three teams in the NFC with six wins. They are just one game back of the first-place Seattle Seahawks with a chance at redemption when they host them in early-December.
Sunday's trouncing of Jacksonville exemplified what the 49ers have done well in the first half of the season to a tee. They ran the ball on the league's worst run defense (221 yards) and scored four rushing touchdowns. They played sound defense, allowing their second-lowest point total of the season.
They got ahead early - scoring the games first 28 points before halftime - to avoid weather potentially neutralizing the unbalanced match up later in the second half. Fortunately, the extreme weather didn't hit Wembley Stadium until after the game ended.
San Francisco scored touchdowns on their first four drives. The only blemish offensively was Frank Gore's fumble in the third quarter. The Jaguars managed their only touchdown of the game after that turnover. The 49ers came back promptly with a 2:08 drive that ended in Gore's second rushing score of the day.
Oddly enough, San Francisco's offense had just three second-half possessions. Jacksonville had the ball for 41 of the 58 snaps in the second half, but managed just 10 points after being unable to score touchdowns on 4th-and-goal situations twice.
The overall statistics don't come close to telling the story of the game. While the 49ers out-gained the Jags by just 80 yards overall, most of Jacksonville's empty production came in the second half. The 49ers amassed 298 yards to the Jaguars' 160 in the opening half.
Dan Skuta's fumble return for a score provided the defensive highlight after Patrick Willis forced his second fumble of the year.
Kaepernick's Outstanding Day
Sunday's game was one of Colin Kaepernick's best overall games of the season. Sure, his two rushing touchdowns stood out, but he played an extremely clean game. He led an offense that passed for nine first downs, ran for 14 and finished 6 of 9 on third down conversions. His 7.71 yards per carry clip was his highest output of any winning effort this season.
Kaepernick's 117.7 passer rating was his best mark since Week 4's efficient outing against the Rams, when he completed 15 of 23 passes for 167 yards and two scores. Sunday, he finished with just 10 completion (his second-lowest total of the year) for 164 and a touchdown.
The 49ers received balanced contributions in the passing game from Anquan Boldin (four receptions, 56 yards), Vernon Davis (three receptions, 52 yards) and Bruce Miller (two receptions, 56 yards). That type of distribution through the air bodes very well for the offense as it heads into the bye week expecting Mario Manningham to return against the Carolina Panthers.
Although Harbaugh refuted the idea that Kyle Williams played his way out of his return duties late in the game, the team has to be concerned about the return game going forward.
Williams muffed a punt and caught kickoff along the sideline and went out of bounds at his 3-yard line in the second quarter. He also failed to haul in two tough passes from Kaepernick on the opening drive.
San Francisco is asking a lot of Williams - a former sixth-round pick - in the absence of Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and LaMichael James. He's been ostensibly the team's No. 2 wide receiver and played a higher volume of snaps than at any point of his four-year career.
That being said, Williams has not capitalized on his opportunity. His skill set is unique to the offense while James remains inactive (although that seems likely to change soon) and he's flashed only with the ball in his hands on gadget running plays. In the passing game, he's caught just 11 of his 25 targets for just 108 yards. He hasn't been very good blocking defensive backs in the running game, either.
The NFL Network reported the 49ers are interested in trading running back and special teams standout Anthony Dixon. Dixon, 26, will be a free agent following the season and would likely garner a seventh-round pick from a team needing a reserve power back that can contribute on special teams.
How would Dixon's departure effect Williams? It would lead to James' promotion to the active 46 on game days where he could become the team's primary punt and kick returner.
With Tank Carradine, Eric Wright, Nick Moody, Smith, Crabtree and Manningham likely joining the 53-man roster in the coming weeks, the 49ers will need to clear space on the roster. Trading Dixon before Tuesday afternoon's trading deadline falls in line with that thinking.
While most observers knew it before he said it, Donte Whitner confirmed it following Sunday's game.
"We have the most paranoid coaching staff in the National Football League," he said.
When it comes to dealing with the media, game planning for opponents or spending 11 days on the road, Harbaugh's staff is always prepared for the worst-case scenario. And given Smith's recent transgressions, perhaps they should be.
But Whitner's quote provides behind-the-curtain color and clarity to a football operation that's incredibly close to the chest. Everything Harbaugh says on the record is calculated in order to avoid giving an opponent a semblance of competitive advantage.
Whether it's never criticizing a player publicly, refusing to divulge a roster move the day before it's made, or comparing skill sets of any two players, Harbaugh and his staff are sure to keep those truths in-house and away from the meddling media.
With two deep playoff runs in his first two NFL seasons followed by a 6-2 start in 2013, paranoia might be an untapped variable in the winning formula. Surely Bill Belichick agrees.
*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this report*
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