And that includes their running game, which had struggled through the first two games of the season.
The 49ers made a dramatic statement with a 19-17 victory over the New York Jets on Monday night, as running backs Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow combined for 178 yards on 29 carries. Then, the 49ers followed that up the impressive showing with a more poignant moment in their post-game locker room. In an emotional postgame locker room, the 49ers handed a game ball to New York Governor George Pataki. They also awarded game balls to New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, as well as representatives from the New York City police and fire departments.
"Tonight, we're all New Yorkers," Pataki told the 49ers in the postgame locker room. The Jets were playing their first home game since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. "This was an honor to play in New York on Monday night and in front of a national audience," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said. "We're happy to come out with a win and rather than give game balls to the guy who scores touchdowns or who has an interception, we gave them to Mayor Giuliani, Governor Pataki, Fire Company Engine 8, Ladder Z and Police Precinct 17. "We think the world of them and what they do for us."
The post-game scene capped a remarkable evening for the 49ers, who were making their first appearance on ABC's "Monday Night Football" for the first time since their 4-12 season of 1999.
"Have we arrived? No," said 49ers tackle Derrick Deese. "But is it a victory? Yes. And did we play well against a good team? Yes."
Those associated with the 49ers running game played particularly well. Hearst gained 95 yards on 20 carries, while Barlow rushed for 83 yards on just nine carries. The 49ers rushed for 233 yards on 42 carries.
"Sometimes I didn't know which way to run because the holes were so big," Barlow said. "'G' was hitting it and I was hitting it. We just got into a rhythm."
Hearst, who missed two full seasons with complications from a broken ankle, put together his strongest performance since late in the 1998 season. The 49ers running game did not slow down even after center Newberry was sidelined late in the first half with an ankle injury. Ben Lynch entered and the offense continued to roll.
"Our backs are so versatile they can find a hole and squeeze though it," Lynch said. Hearst, who went over the 5,000-yard mark in his career, appeared to run much better between the tackles Monday night. Hearst has had difficulty breaking tackles in the early season, a trait of his record-setting season of 1998. Hearst gained a team-record 1,570 yards before breaking his ankle in the playoffs.
"I think every week it's really getting better," Hearst said. "I'm feeling more and more comfortable. I don't even think about the ankle any more." Hearst and Barlow fed off each other's success. The running arrangement that Mariucci has called "running backs by committee" showed the first signs of success this season as his team improved to 2-1. "Whatever works for us," Hearst said. "Whatever it takes to get to the playoffs." The 49ers' ground game did not show anything in the first two games of the season, as quarterback Jeff Garcia amounted to the team's only threat.
Both Hearst and Barlow entered the game with identical statistics - 18 carries for 58 yards. Garcia led the team with 83 yards rushing on 12 carries. The 49ers also got a strong performance from its defense, managing to hold Jets running back Curtis Martin to 66 yards on 19 carries. He scored both Jets touchdowns on short runs. The 49ers outgained the Jets 359-268. Barlow provided a lift to the 49ers on the team's second offensive possession after they went three-and-out on the first series. Barlow gained 15 yards on his first rushing attempt. He touched the ball on five straight plays (three running for 29 yards and two passes for 10 yards) to set up a 6-yard scoring pass from quarterback Jeff Garcia to Terrell Owens. On the play, Owens lined up in the backfield. The play tied the score at 7-7. The Jets had taken a 7-0 lead on a 9-minute, 22-second drive in which the Jets converted on all four of their third downs. Martin plunged in from 2 yards out for the touchdown.
The 49ers came within inches of scoring a touchdown on their next possession, too. Garcia was ruled down just outside the goal line after being tackled by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. Television replays showed that Garcia might have scored on the play, but the 49ers did not challenge the call with 2:18. Instead, the 49ers had to rely on kicker Jose Cortez to connect on four field goals from lengths of 19, 49, 35 and 29 yards. Cortez has made his first nine attempts, giving him the best start of any first-year 49ers kicker. He also supplied another rarity when he was called for unnecessary roughness for his late hit out of bounds on Jets return man Lavernaues Coles. The 49ers drove 56 yards on 10 plays in the final 1:42 of the first half to get into position for Cortez's 49-yarder.
A week earlier, Cortez nailed a 52-yarder at the end of the first half in the 49ers' 30-26 loss to the St. Louis Rams. Garcia and the 49ers' passing game bounced back with a solid game after struggling against the Rams. Garcia completed 16 of 20 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. During the 49ers' final drive, however, Newberry appeared to sustain a serious injury when he got caught in a pile while being pushed backward by Jets linebacker James Farrior.
The 49ers announced that X-rays on Newberry's left ankle were negative. Martin scored on a 1-yard run with :50 remaining to pull within 19-17. Terry Jackson recovered the onside kick to ensure the victory.
"Our young defense is improving each week and I'm really pleased with their progress," Mariucci said. "But we came up with some big plays on special teams. Jose came through with four field goals and Terry Jackson, on our hands team, made a big recovery. "In some ways, we put it together, but we still have a ways to go."