After the preseason—so typical in its haziness—the same two questions were there.

The first was whether the defense could maintain its intensity (not to mention its health) and replicate last year's suffocating show. And the second, of course, was whether the offense could exploit its new weaponry and evolve into something consistently dangerous.

Those were the questions, and naturally they were interrelated. If the defense were to avoid its projected regression, we could try to make do with the same offensive training-wheels. Meanwhile, if the defense were to slip a bit—due to age, injury, luck, whatever—the offense would need to pick up the slack.

In other words, the more that the answer to one question was yes, the more that the answer to the other could be no. But if the answer to both of those questions was yes?

Watch out. Just watch the hell out.

Of all the places to look for conclusive answers, none could be better than Lambeau Field. Out of the gate—and in our personal house of horrors—our D would be tested by one of the greatest offenses ever; if we could hold up there, we could hold up anywhere. On the other hand, the Packers' secondary was one of the worst ever; if we couldn't show some offensive explosiveness...then, well, we probably don't have any.

And the early returns were decidedly mixed.

On offense, we began with a definitive no. We'd been waiting for this first series for months, and what did we get? Run, run, pass (or, more precisely, sack), punt. This is what's known as the Jimmy Raye Special; and by now, regardless of our particular offensive philosophies, I think we can all politely agree: it should never happen, not anymore.

After the defense held—despite the first of many baffling penalties—the offense fired up the passing game. Alex Smith looked sharp, hitting all three of his top wide-receivers. But then, on third-and-four, Smith threw high and wide, at Delanie Walker. On TV, Troy Aikman pointed out that Randy Moss had been facing one-on-one coverage, yet Smith "never considered going to Randy." (An interesting observation, I thought.) And out came David Akers, who hit the first of his three field-goals, which put him ahead of last year's record pace.

So, it seemed, here we go again. As we did last year, we'll kick our field goals, and no matter how high-powered our opponents, we'll ask our D for deliverance.

The D, though, was up to the task. Still impenetrable by the run, still unbreakable by the pass. But in a way, it was better than ever. In last year's playoffs, knowing that great passers usually can exploit any coverage when they've got enough time, we simply hit 'em again and again. On Sunday, though we did give Aaron Rodgers some pressure, mostly he just had nowhere to throw.

One particular play was illustrative. On a third down, in the waning seconds of the first half, Rodgers faced only a three-man rush. He scanned the field for nearly five seconds before running left and flicking the ball straight out of bounds. To frustrate a great passer with pure coverage is nearly unheard of in today's game, and it shows that this D, unbelievably, has gotten even better still.

But more importantly, so has the O.

Despite that rough start, Smith was good, very good. Visibly both confident and comfortable, he surgically spread the ball around to his new-and-improved receiving corps. He'll face much better Ds than the Packers', but still: 8 yards per pass, 2 touchdowns, and a rating of 125? Rodgers was right; Smith was no mere "manager," not on this day.

I'll admit it: when it comes to Smith, I'm certifiable. In a league with plenty of bad QBs, it seems crazy to have such dissonance about an indisputably good one. But my fear is merely the Niners' own, as evinced by their annual quest to replace him: if we need greatness, consistently, will Smith be able to rise to the challenge?

Smith didn't answer that question on Sunday; despite Aikman's pleas, he never took a downfield shot against single coverage, even if only "to test that out." But he might've done the next best thing. He might've rendered the question moot.

Without a doubt, the defense is ready; it just demolished the greatest O it'll face all year. So the regression argument, at least in the absence of a serious injury, is debunked. As a result, Smith and the O don't need to be great; very good will be more than enough.

And very good this offense will be. Smith knows how to use his new weapons, effectively if not to the utmost. The running game, now alternating thunder and lightning from at least a half-dozen exotic formations, is enough to quell any pass-first ideologue. (Well, almost.) And if we continue to score as many touchdowns as field goals?

Like I said, just watch the hell out.

And so, off the bat, a quick adjustment of expectations. I must confess, I bought the regression theory. It wasn't that I had lost faith in Superman (though I do worry, especially with these replacement refs, that Superman's head will spontaneously combust). And it wasn't even that I had lost faith in Smith (though, as you know, my faith in Smith does wax and wane). It was simply this: when the Football Fates hand you a golden ticket to the Super Bowl, and when you carelessly throw that ticket away, usually they make you pay.

But the Niners merely answered with their most convincing win in years. For the first time since the halcyon days of Montana and Rice, they went into Lambeau and crushed the Pack. Maybe they didn't bring the same O—Joe threw for 411, Jerry caught for 187—but between their very good O and spectacular D, they put those preseason questions to rest.

And the answers sound like the Super Bowl.