Oh, I was tempted to say it, of course.

After we overwhelmed the Rams, I wanted to join the cavalcade. After all, Colin Kaepernick had thrown for nearly 350 yards—not to mention three beautiful scores—and when we open things up and go pass-first, I'm usually leading the cavalcade. Add the fact that our largely second-string defense had squelched the Rams in the second half, and these were the Niners of my wildest dreams: aggressive and dominant on both sides of the ball. Sure, our late fourth-down follies were infuriating, keeping the Rams in it 'til the final seconds. But winners now of three in a row, the Niners looked to be on their way, thanks in large part to their quality depth, and I was awfully tempted to say it.

But something about this seemed way premature. The Rams, see, were a crummy team with a young QB. And when you're aiming at the Super Bowl, you can't prove anything against a team like that.

Up next, by contrast, were the Broncos.

Of all the first-ballot Hall of Famers, Peyton Manning's the most overrated. I don't say this because I'm annoyed by his constant telemarketing, or even because he doesn't quite deserve his golden-boy image. I say it because his robotic proficiency—though it's certainly awesome, I'll quickly concede—doesn't equate with genuine greatness. Greatness, at least on a playing field, is defined by a transcendent power to raise one's game when it matters most. I've previously used this Paul Hackett quote: "A lot of [quarterbacks] can play when things go like the coaches say they will. The great ones can adapt. The great ones can keep a team's head above water when everything is turning to shit out there."

When things go like the coaches say they will, Manning plays like the greatest ever. But when everything turns to shit out there—see, for example, this latest Super Bowl—Manning gets pretty shitty himself.

The thing is, though, it's up to your defense to make him that way. If you can disrupt him, you'll stop him with ease. But if you can't, you've got no chance at all.

So I wanted to say, after the Rams, that the Niners indeed were on their way, thanks in large part to their quality depth. But the Broncos were next, and I just had a feeling: they might tell us a different story.

And needless to say, Manning wasn't impressed by our depth. He went 22-of-26 for 318 yards and four scores. That's a rating of 157.2. ("Perfection," remember, is 158.3.) And he didn't even play the fourth quarter!

As nauseous as that game of keep-away was, it was the toughest game he played all night.

And why should we have been surprised? Knowing what Manning does to most first-string Ds, we should've known what he'd do to our second-. But the common perception was that the Niners were some kind of superteam, with every Montana backed up by a Young. That perception seemed questionable, even before we went to Denver; but afterward, it just seems ridiculous.

Trent Baalke and I have had our issues. I called him a failure before he won Executive of the Year, and I called him a genius after the worst draft in the history of the franchise. But after all those ups and downs, we've landed squarely in the middle. Without question, he's produced one of the league's best starting-units (though at this point, still shell-shocked, I might be persuaded to trade ours for Denver's). But depth? C'mon. Which of our backups would be starting elsewhere? Stevie Johnson and Perrish Cox, if you'd call them backups, but third receivers and third corners might as well be starters anyway. Brandon Lloyd. Glenn Dorsey or Ian Williams, whichever one is really our backup. And maybe Aaron Lynch, if we're being generous. But that's it, and that's not depth.

My purpose here is not to go back to bashing ol' Trent. On the whole he's done a commendable job. But the biggest takeaway from this injury-ravaged season? He hasn't done as well as we'd thought.

But that's how it goes in the salary-cap age. If you want to contend, you can't count on rookies, but nor can you stockpile veteran talent. All you can do is collect good starters and pray for their health. Or pray for their health at the optimal time.

And the Niners' prayers are about to be answered.

Every team says that its bye week comes at "the perfect time," but the Niners are actually telling the truth. And indeed, the team that faces the Rams next week won't be the one that the Broncos crushed. Patrick Willis should be back. So should Chris Culliver. Mike Iupati should be over his concussion. Aldon Smith, who's been sidelined by a different kind of brain damage, should be back that week or the next. Vernon Davis, Anthony Davis, and Tramaine Brock, who were walking dead in Denver, should be healthy. And NaVorro Bowman waits in the wings. As disappointed as you might be in our "depth," that collection of starters should make you drool.

Meanwhile, our schedule will loosen up, with four straight games against losing teams. As for the Cardinals, four of their next five are against teams with two losses or fewer, or at Seattle. And as for those Seahawks, their vaunted defense, so ferocious last year, has plunged to literal mediocrity. (Their famous pass-D is ranked 16th.) Add the fact that two of their most explosive weapons from last year are now playing elsewhere, and, well, so much for the Seahawks' dynasty.

So no, the Niners aren't the Broncos. The Broncos look like the Niners of old: they know who they are, and as of now, they know they're the best. I wish this year's Niners could look like that. But there's no need to worry, because this year's Niners look like last year's Niners: a team that struggled through early turmoil, but then hit its stride, becoming perhaps the best team in the league.

Make no mistake: that's about to happen again. And this time, no one—from Arizona, Seattle, or even from Denver—will be able to stop it.