The 49ers beat the Jets on Sunday at Candlestick.

Holy *&^%.

Sweet mother of @#$!&^ on a cracker.

The 49ers beat a team led by Brett Favre on Sunday at Candlestick.

Wow. That pretty much sums up what 49er fans got from their team on Sunday afternoon. In their victory over the Jets, the 49ers didn't look like they were ever in danger of losing. While there are some that will say that the Niners beat an over-the-hill Brett Favre at the helm of a team that isn't famous for doing well on trips to the West, I will say that the 49ers finally proved what they are capable of when scheme matches personnel, and when players are asked to play within the range and scope of their abilities. The team looked great from start to finish, the star players shone as brightly as expected, and the role players came to play. Everyone showed up, no one quit, and the 49ers dominated a more talented opponent for 60 minutes. It appears that the Singletary "smash mouth" formula for success is beginning to take shape.

It would be easy to become a "homer" right about now, and start talking about the return of the dynasty years, Super Bowls to come, and about how the Niners should win out over the last three games...but I am not going to do that. Instead, I will ask this question: What has changed? This team is the same squad that was handed to Mike Singletary six weeks ago after the ouster of Mike Nolan. So...what has changed? What made this team jump up and stomp the guts out of a playoff bound Jets team, led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback? How did the same old roster manage to pull this off? The fact is, there was no grand sudden titanic event. Rather, a bunch of little things finally clicked, and the 49ers suddenly looked like a good football team.

Run, Run, and Run Some More
On Sunday, the 49ers ran. A lot. The team ran the ball 33 times, netting just over 3 yards per carry, for a grand total of 100 yards on the day. When he left the game at the beginning of the third quarter, Frank Gore had amassed 52 yards on 14 carries, a 3.7 YPC average. After his exit, DeShaun Foster stepped in and carried 16 times for 35 yards, a 2.1 YPC average. A scramble by Hill and two carries by fullback Michael Robinson round out the touches for the ground game on the day. While the stats are hardly stellar (the team as a whole averaged a very pedestrian 3.03 YPC), they reveal a huge key in the 49ers game plan: clock control. The 49ers held the ball for nearly 40 minutes, keeping Brett Favre off the field for all but 20 minutes of the game. For the first time all season, the game was placed in the hands of the running attack, which effectively gained yardage, set up manageable third down conversions and kept pass rushers honest. None of this would have been possible without the best game of the season from the offensive line (Eric Heitmann, Chilo Rachal, and Joe Staley in particular), inspired "dirty work" running from Frank Gore and DeShaun Foster, and great play calling from Mike Martz.

Getting Offensive on Defense
Something happened Sunday that hasn't happened in 49erland for quite a while: the team ran with a 1-gap, 4-3 defense for the bulk of the game. The result was 60 minutes of dominating defense. The Jets only managed 189 yards of total offense on the day. The 49er D-Line was quick off the ball all day, generating pressure consistently throughout the game and rolling up 3 sacks in the process. Aubrayo Frankin anchored the middle well, making 4 tackles (3 solo, 1 assist), and swallowing up blockers with seeming ease. Justin Smith and Parys Haralson pressed the edges and collapsed the pocket, limiting Favre's ability to go deep. With the D-line having a great day up front, the linebackers were free to run to the ball, looking for "targets of opportunity". Among these was Jets receiver Brad Smith, who was briefly knocked into a parallel dimension after a bone-jarring hit from Patrick Willis late in the 4th quarter. The secondary had its best game of the season, running an uncharacteristically tight Cover 2. Brett Favre's top 2 targets, Jericho Cotchery and Laverneus Coles, were limited to one catch apiece and a total of 15 yards receiving. Notable contributors in the secondary were Michael Lewis (who seemed to be all over the field, collecting 7 tackles), Donald Strickland (who dropped Leon Washington's fillings on a monstrous shot in the 3rd quarter), and Tarell Brown (who had spectacular man coverage on an early deep shot at the end zone by Brett Favre). From start to finish, the defense had its finest performance since the Mariucci era.

King of the Hill
Shaun Hill came into Sunday's game as the second best quarterback on the field. He left the field having completed 28 of 39 passes (71%) for 285 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT for a passer rating of 98.8. At the start of the season, Hill was a non-factor. After the Coach Singletary took over, many viewed his installation at starting quarterback as a move born of desperation. After five full games as starter, Hill is 3-2, and has demonstrated the kind of gamesmanship that 49ers fans have been hungry for since the departure of Jeff Garcia. On Sunday, Hill displayed poise, composure and confidence, spreading the ball around to 10 different receivers over the course of the game. His growing chemistry with crafty veteran Isaac Bruce (who abused Ty Law regularly on Sunday) and second year player Jason Hill (who has grown by leaps and bounds in recent weeks) is creating a passing attack that has to be accounted for by opposing defenses. Though he is far from enshrinement in Canton, Hill was the better quarterback Sunday...and made a compelling argument that he could be more than a stopgap solution at starting quarterback for the 49ers.

So...have the 49ers finally arrived? Hardly. Remember, this is the same roster of players that had fans calling for Mike Nolan's head six weeks ago. The team hasn't arrived...yet. They have, however, taken the first few crucial steps toward respectability. The coaching staff finally seems to have a handle on the talent they've got...and how to use that talent to generate victories against quality opponents. The team's next challenge is to consistently display the kind of drive and tenacity that they exhibited Sunday afternoon. The team's next three contests are at Miami, at St. Louis, and the season finale at home against the Redskins. All of these games are winnable, with the toughest coming next week against a white-hot Miami Dolphins team that features punishing runner Ronnie Brown and fearsome pass-rushing linebacker Joey Porter. Can Coach Singletary lead his team east and come home with a win for the second time in three weeks? If you had asked me that question 5 weeks ago, I'd have told you there was a snowball's chance in hell of that happening. After yesterday's game, I'd say the chances are better than average. However things shake out for this team next week in Miami, one thing is should be a lot of fun to watch.