Are 49ers ready for role as frontrunners?

When the 49ers awakened Monday morning, a whole new landscape appeared before them. The NFC West is suddenly theirs to have and to hold. After dropping defending NFC champion St. Louis to 0-5 with Sunday's 37-13 rout of the Rams, the young and rising Niners find themselves in an unusual position now of playing from ahead with first place to hang onto.

It's where the Niners have been striving to be since beginning their climb from the NFL ashes in 1999. With the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks – hardly world-beaters – as their closest pursuers in the division, the Niners could gain a firm grip on the NFC West by the time October turns to November. San Francisco visits Seattle this coming Monday and hosts Arizona on Oct. 27.


Just the same, there's some question how ready the Niners actually are for a frontrunners role. There were 44 players on the roster than never had even beaten the Rams as 49ers before Sunday.


"Back when I was here, we were always the team that everybody wanted to beat," Niners tackle Dana Stubblefield said on Monday. Stubblefield returned to the team last year after starring for the Niners during the twilight of the team's dynasty from 1993-97. "And guys around here now, we've got to get used to success. A lot of these guys aren't used to winning games and being ahead in the division when it's still early on in the season like it is now."


Stubblefield said the Niners' overall lack of experience in dealing with such a situation is "a problem that could hurt us," as the 3-1 Niners attempt to build on their division lead.


"It's a whole different world around this whole league now," he said. "It's anybody's game. There's only one undefeated team left. We're sitting pretty in our division right now. We're still sitting pretty around the NFL. But now we have to go build on it."


Added defensive tackle Bryant Young, another of the few veterans who were part of the team's glory years, "Having been there when it was great for us, and going through the bad times, you know that it can easily slip. So as a veteran on this team, you have to be a leader out there and just tell these guys that, hey, we have a lot to look forward to, and don't let our opportunity slip.


"We know we still have a lot of work ahead of us. We can't rest at this point. We just have to continue to get better and keep that lead. We have to stay hungry and we definitely can't rest on our laurels right now."


Coach Steve Mariucci says that won't be a problem.


"We're too young to take anybody lightly," he said. "We're not good enough to take anybody lightly or for granted. No way. We still have a long ways to go to be feeling real good about ourselves. We feel we're on track and improving. But this team needs to stay hungry. This team needs to continue to practice hard. No backing off at all. Pedal to the metal every day of our lives, because we have so much room for improvement."


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