49ers vs. Lions: What we learned

After reviewing his team's 31-13 throttling of the Detroit Lions, Mike Nolan said, "All three phases of the game played well enough to win." Then he added something of a disclaimer by saying, "There's things that went well, and there's things we can work on." San Francisco showed a lot about what kind of team it is Sunday, and here are five things we learned about the 49ers during their big win.

The 49ers are good enough to bury a weaker team: When's the last time in the past five seasons you could say that about San Francisco? Here's the answer: Never. Because the 49ers never were. Even when they made a nice little run at respectability in 2006, the 49ers never convincingly out-classed an opponent for a full 60 minutes. But on Sunday against the Lions, there was just no question about which team was the best from middle of the first quarter to the very end. Sunday's domination displayed that the 49ers could jump on an inferior team and then sustain the effort for an entire afternoon, and also showed what can be accomplished when each unit of the team plays as one. The 49ers never let the Lions get back in the game simply because they were better on both sides of the ball. When that kind of thing happens, it adds up to an 18-point smackdown - the largest margin of victory during the Mike Nolan era. San Francisco's last six quarters of football are the best the 49ers have played for that long of a stretch since 2003.

Walt Harris and Nate Clements can match up with anybody on the edges: Did you see what this dynamic duo did to Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams? That receiver tandem is not only one of the biggest sets of starting receivers in the NFL, it's one of best and most talented. But Clements and Harris minimized their impact, and in several instances took them out of the game. Harris, in particular, had a tremendous game shutting down Williams and is playing much better than last year, and at this point perhaps even better than his 2006 Pro Bowl form. Clements said after Sunday's game, "I think I'm the best corner in this league, and I'll test my skills against anybody." That's no brag, just fact. Clements might not be the best corner in the league, but he's up there among the best. Clements and Harris also played well in the opener against Arizona's stud duo of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, with Boldin doing most of his damage in the second half when Arizona's coaches devised formations to get him away from Clements and Harris. It takes a lot to shake these two experienced corners, and with San Francisco's pass rush improving, opponents are having a difficult time doing it.

The offensive line is displaying steady growth as a unit: This was the best game of the season for the line, which did a fine job protecting quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan after allowing eight sacks - and eight other quarterback hits - the week before against the Seahawks. After a lull in Week 2, center Eric Heitmann had another stellar performance, and the young guards next to him - Tony Wragge and Adam Snyder - have been displaying a lot of promise in general and are handling their assignments considerably well. The way Joe Staley performed in pass protection on Sunday is a fine example of why the 49ers moved him to the left edge. He protected O'Sullivan's blind side like a bodyguard, and if he consistently plays left tackle like this, the 49ers are going places. O'Sullivan was sacked just once, and the 49ers rolled to 182 yards rushing. It was a winning performance all around, and more will follow if the line continues to progress and build on its latest performance.

The JTO Express is officially rolling: It still might be a little presumptuous to say that J.T. O'Sullivan is the answer at quarterback, but he sure is beginning to make you wonder about what exactly is the question. O'Sullivan now has strung together three quality performances to begin the season, with the last two falling into the exceptional category. He stands today as the No. 2-rated quarterback in the NFC - and No. 4 overall in the NFL - with a 104.6 rating, and that number doesn't lie. O'Sullivan has played every bit as well as it might suggest, and he has been excelling in every phase of playing the position. He has a tremendous feel for the offense and knows where to go with the football. And with his flinging, quick-rapid release, he knows how to get it to his targets quickly and on the money. O'Sullivan also is displaying presence in the pocket and knows when to bail before it collapses on him. He's making plays with his feet as well as his arm, and his 65 yards rushing this season rank second on the team. He's on pace to throw for 3,760 yards and rush for 347. What's not to like? Roll, JTO, roll.

The 49ers aren't getting ahead of themselves: Sure, they enjoyed the big victory and talked optimistically about what it means and what it can become. But practically to a man, the 49ers aren't suggesting by any means that this performance indicates they've arrived and a two-game winning streak suddenly makes them a force to be reckoned with in the NFL. Far from it. They know this is only a start, a picture of potential for what this season can become. It certainly isn't there yet, and they clearly are looking only at the New Orleans game this weekend and not what awaits beyond it. O'Sullivan said, "I don't even know who we play after New Orleans." That may be a bit of an exaggeration. Then again, it might not be. We can tell you for certain O'Sullivan hasn't looked lately. Neither have a lot of his teammates. The 49ers also started 2-1 last year, and maybe - particularly after they were 2-0 - some of them got a false sense of security they were better then they really were. That's not happening anywhere on the team this year, even though the 49ers clearly look better than they did at this point in 2007. This "one game at a time" mantra of Mike Nolan's, well, it's really sinking in and taking hold.

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