One more chance. To be, once more, the talk of the league, the 49ers had one more chance.

We'd taken the Lions' best punch. On our very first play, Kyle Vanden Bosch simply snatched the ball from Alex Smith. Our defense held despite first-and-goal at the three, but our second drive was scuttled by two consecutive false starts, our third drive was a three-and-out, and the Lions sliced through our D for a 10-nothing lead.

We couldn't expect a redux of Philly. If we were going to win this one--if we were going to make an irrefutable statement that we were truly one of the best--we needed to answer, immediately.

Frank Gore's 47-yard dash, straight through the heart of the Lions' D, did quite nicely. Add to that an Aldon Smith safety and a 55-yard field goal--all while our D simply stifled their O--and we managed to eke out a halftime lead.

In a hostile environment, against a very strong opponent, just hangin' in there was pretty impressive. But now that we'd done that, we couldn't be satisfied, not THIS year.

In the second half, we needed to win.

After an exchange of field goals, our D continued to impose its will, forcing a punt from the Lions' five. The punt was lousy, setting us up at Detroit's 43. This was our chance to really take control of this thing. Instead Alex Smith, whose tendency to throw high was disturbingly retrograde, airmailed Michael Crabtree, and the pick came 30 yards back. Predictably, the Lions awoke, scoring a touchdown to retake the lead and rejuvenate the crowd. Both Ds buckled down until late in the fourth, when Ted Ginn came to the rescue again, notching a huge punt-return to set us up, somewhat mysteriously, at Detroit's 35.

Five runs gained 25, and two throws gained 4 more. Fourth-and-goal, at the six.

One more chance.

At this instant, it didn't matter what you thought of Alex Smith. Whether he'd been a victim or a bust. Whether his resurgence was real or fake. Whether he was still the future or merely playing out the string. No matter what you thought of him, this was the most important moment of his career, and with every ounce of your energy, with every drop of your passion, with every fiber of your were rooting for him.

And with a perfect strike to Delanie Walker, he delivered.

In the midst of euphoria, our D wrapped up not only the win, but also its own incredible show. 66 rushing yards. 10 quarterback hits, including 5 sacks and the safety. Megatron with plenty of yards but nary a single significant play.

The Niners were the NFL's biggest surprise, and Jim Harbaugh was simply on top of the world.

So yeah, maybe he shook hands a little too hard.

It's truly a sign of our baffling times: a clip of an exchange between football coaches, studied like it's the Zapruder film. The breathless reportage that's STILL going on--Who's right?! Who's wrong?! Who started it?!--is enough to drive you to drink. In actuality, the story is simple: when they met at midfield, Harbaugh was discourteous, and Jim Schwartz responded by becoming an infant. Both should strive to do better next time, and that should be the end of it. (It WON'T be, but it should.)

Though Harbaugh should be more respectful to his opponents--after he simply destroys them, that is--the bigger story should be what he's building here with his notorious intensity. Intense coaches are nothing new, of course, but the melding of that intensity with Harbaugh's obvious strategic brilliance...well, suffice it to say that this IS something new. Not just here, but anywhere. Most great tacticians lack the important ability to relate to their players emotionally. Likewise, most of the fire-and-brimstone types can't back up their bluster with the necessary smarts. (Know any of those?) Harbaugh's pure legitimacy on BOTH fronts--without a trace of pretension on either--makes him perhaps the most qualified coach who has ever lived. And who knows? Someday it just might make him the best.

But even those who had recognized Harbaugh's greatness couldn't have imagined that he'd turn it all around so fast. Don't forget: Though its coaching was much, much worse than its roster, last year's team went 6-and-10, and most of the new starters on this year's team were merely backups on last year's team (though it's looking a bit like they shouldn't have been). Throw in the lockout and our spotty preseason, and certain writers strapped themselves in for a long, hard slog:

"You see, in all the Harbaugh hysteria, I came to believe in a miracle. ... We'd emerged from the darkness. We'd hired the savior. And right from the start, nothing would stop him. Alas, though, it won't be that simple. Harbaugh's got a ways to go. Let's do our best to enjoy the ride, but understand that it won't be quick. Make no mistake: the miracle is coming. But, as any child knows, even miracles take a little time."

It's now only two months later. Tactically, to go with a defense that just doesn't break, Harbaugh's installed a real West Coast Offense--passing first, most of the time--but he's perfectly tailored those schemes to his players' talents and limitations. (In particular, his unreadable formations have been a mammoth boon to his offensive line.) Emotionally, he's got his players believing that they can truly accomplish anything; and with three fourth-quarter road comebacks over the last four weeks, they just might be right.

Put it together, and he's wiped out nearly a decade of misery, placing the Niners, at long last, once again among the elites. A Super Bowl season might still be a reach, but for now there's one, amazing conclusion:

The miracle is already here.

You can shake on it, as hard as you like.