Surging 49ers fly past Jets

It's games like this that make you think what might have been in this suddenly resonating 49ers season. But here's what is – a San Francisco team on fire, playing with purpose and intensity, and now on a winning streak after totally dominating a first-place team in December. It doesn't get much better than a 24-14 thumping of the New York Jets, but the Niners promise the best still is yet to come.

It's difficult not to believe them after the way they thoroughly wasted the Jets on Sunday, setting the tone with an onside kick attempt on the opening kickoff and then never stepping off the gas until the 49ers had completed a convincing victory that was much more one-sided than the final score might indicate.

Try on these numbers for the true size of this victory: Against an 8-4 Jets team that's playing for playoff positioning and needed a victory to hang onto sole possession of first place in the rugged AFC East, the 49ers had a 375-182 advantage in total yards, a 39:49-20:11 advantage in time of possession, limited the Jets to just 1-of-10 efficiency on third-down conversions and had a 25-10 edge in first downs.

Now, that's domination.

"This one says a lot about our guys," Mike Singletary said after the 49ers improved to 5-8 and evened Singletary's record as interim coach at 3-3. "It says a lot about what we're trying to do and the statement that we're trying to make."

If last week's surprising victory at Buffalo didn't get the message across, it came through loud and clear Sunday before a sellout crowd at Candlestick Park that had plenty to cheer and roar about throughout the afternoon.

This no longer is the same team that stumbled to a 2-5 start with Mike Nolan as coach, then started 0-2 after Singletary took Nolan's place near the end of October. This is a team that suddenly has its act together and is playing San Francisco's best football in five seasons.

This was an effort that seemed to legitimize the progress the 49ers have displayed in winning three of their past four games. The Niners went up against legendary quarterback Brett Favre and one of the AFC's front-running teams, and thoroughly outplayed them in just about every aspect.

Favre was thoroughly outplayed by Shaun Hill, who continued his rise to prominence as San Francisco's starting quarterback and now is 4-0 as a starter at Candlestick Park. Hill had another big day, completing 28 of 39 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns to keep the offense moving throughout the afternoon while compiling a game quarterback rating of 98.8.

"This was a big step for myself and this team," Hill said. "This is really big for our program. It's just huge for us to beat an opponent like this and to go back-to-back and get victories like this against two good opponents."

Especially wins like this one. Throughout the day, the 49ers looked more like a first-place, playoff-bound opponent than did their outclassed opponent.

The 49ers displayed confidence from the opening coin toss, which they won and decided to defer their option to the second half. When the Jets then opted to receive the opening kickoff, the 49ers surprised them and everybody else with an onside kick. The Jets recovered that kick, but were stoned immediately by San Francisco's defense, and after being hit early and often from all angles by the Niners, New York would be left trying to recover the rest of the afternoon.

"We wanted to set the tone from the very beginning of the game and just let our players know and let the Jets know," Singletary said. "It just let the Jets know and let our guys feel it: ‘Hey, you know what? We're going all out. This is our game. We're approaching it that way, and you'll see it from the very beginning.'"

And so it was. The San Francisco defense forced a quick three-and-out, and the Niners sailed right down the field with their first offensive possession before running back Michael Robinson lost a fumble at the New York 17-yard line.

That was the first of five maddening fumbles by the 49ers that helped keep the Jets in the game. But fortunately, only one of those fumbles was lost.

"The ball kind of bounced our way today," 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley said.

It definitely bounced San Francisco's way late in the first quarter after receiver Jason Hill caught a quick slant from Shaun Hill and was hit and fumbled at the goal line. Staley landed on the loose football in the end zone, giving the 49ers an early 7-0 lead with the first touchdown of his career.

After the 49ers took a 14-7 halftime lead on Frank Gore's short touchdown reception, Hill threw a third-quarter interception in New York territory that was a huge momentum changer and allowed the Jets to score a quick touchdown that evened the score at 14-14 midway through the period.

For a moment there, it looked like the 49ers might unravel and doom themselves with the kind of mistakes and turnovers that plagued them earlier in the year.

But not this time. Not on this day. The 49ers were just too good to be undone by themselves.

They got solid – and often exceptional – play everywhere from an offensive line that protected Shaun Hill and blocked well in the run game against the NFL's fourth-ranked rushing defense to a defense that harassed Favre on an afternoon he was sacked three times, hit on five other occasions and passed for just 137 yards while throwing an interception and finishing with a quarterback rating of 60.8.

"I give San Francisco credit," said Favre, who lost for just the second time in 13 career starts against the 49ers. "They played hard. Their defense is playing well. They don't get a lot of credit, but they deserve more. They're well on their way. I was impressed before the game. I'm impressed after."

The Jets were held without a first down on six of their 11 offensive possessions and were limited to one first down on three other possessions.

Hill was sacked twice but had ample time to throw most of the day, and the 49ers had five possessions on which they gained 47 yards or more, including touchdown marches of 51, 74 and 76 yards.

They also moved the ball on the ground, with Gore picking up 52 hard-earned yards rushing before he injured his left ankle and was forced to leave the game in the third quarter. X-rays were negative, and Gore said he was itching to come back in the game since he finished the afternoon just 22 yards short of his third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.

"As on offensive line, we really stepped up today and met the challenge," 49ers center Eric Heitmann said. "Everybody had a part from tackle to tackle. This was a big step forward for us."

Said Staley, "We were able to get the tough yards. We knew it was going to be on our shoulders, and we went out and got it done."

And that's what the 49ers are now – a team that goes out and gets the job done.

And a team that finishes the job. The 49ers have now recorded back-to-back wins against opponents with a winning record for the first time since 2002, their last winning season.

"This is a big win for us in the aspect of building confidence," linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "We keep doing everything that coach Singletary's been telling us to, and when you get results like that, it's showing that guys are buying into what's being sold."

And, after Sunday, what's being sold these days in 49erland is beginning to look priceless.



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