"Tarvaris is gaining more confidence and we're gaining more confidence in him," head coach Brad Childress said. "People think we have a good running game and we do. But we showed that we are not one-dimensional. Tarvaris has been making huge strides."
The Vikings still maintain the league's top-ranked rushing attack, but the quarterback numbers bear out Childress' assertion, and Jackson's passer rating has been steadily on the climb in the past month.
In his first five games of action this season, Jackson had only two performances with a rating of at least 70 – with wins against the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears. He dipped to 26.4 and 44.2 ratings in losses to the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys, respectively.
But since coming back healthy following the team's 34-0 blowout to the Green Bay Packers, Jackson has been at the top of his game. He has thrown only two interceptions in the last four games compared to five touchdowns, and his passer ratings have been 79.9, 139.2, 110.4 and 95.9.
After leading the Vikings on their current four-game winning streak, his rating is up to 73.0 for the season. That still ranks only 27th in the league, but that is due more to his struggling start than his performance during the Vikings' playoff push. He has recently passed the likes of Rex Grossman, Alex Smith, Trent Dilfer, Damon Huard and Vince Young on the league charts for the season. Another strong performance against the Chicago Bears next Monday night could put him among the league's top 20 passer ratings.
"He's strung some things together here in the last four games, and that's what you're looking for," Childress said. "You're looking for consistency at that position. If they're going to take away some things in the run, you've got to give something to get something. The fact that they were going to go all-out and assault the run … I thought Tarvaris did something in offsetting the passing game."
Against San Francisco, Jackson had one touchdown pass, but it came in the face of a corner blitz. Jackson saw it coming, unloaded a quick slant pass to Robert Ferguson, whose defender was blitzing, and the wide receiver made the catch, avoided a tackle and cut back to the outside for a 19-yard touchdown.
"They came with a corner blitz and Tarvaris read it perfectly," Childress said on Sunday.
On Monday, Childress said, "We've seen our share of blitzes, and when you have a young quarterback people are going to commit eight people to the box. I think that's probably the way they committed them, bringing them right off the edge and making it tough for your good-blocking wide receivers to get involved when they're coming right off the nose of the receiver and head inside at the snap of the football. It was a good scheme by them and it kind of took us a second to calibrate for that scheme."
Childress said it's possible that other teams could try to repeat that strategy and that everybody has cornerback blitz packages. It's just that some teams aren't as bold as San Francisco was in doing that. Entering the game with a 3-9 record, the 49ers had little to lose in trying it.
But the Vikings are doing better because of a number of factors. Childress cited the offensive line coming together, the play-action fakes working well and the running backs lending help in protection. But he also said Jackson is doing especially well in learning when to escape the pocket and run with the ball, which Childress acknowledged is especially advantageous when a play-action fake has created more running room in the middle of the field.
It's baby steps for the maturation of a second-year quarterback and even his opponents are starting to notice.
"I want to take my hats off to them," 49ers defensive lineman Aubrayo Franklin said. "They are a young team that has enthusiastic runners and what looks like a soon-to-be great quarterback."
Those words probably wouldn't have been uttered a month ago.