This was the moment. The moment that sealed it.

Fourth quarter. The Niners had simply dismantled the Bucs, beating ‘em every conceivable way. The score was 34 to 3. David Akers kicked a 46-yard field goal to put the game even more out of reach. Penalty, though. On the defense. Leverage.

Let's see here. What should we do?

Three weeks earlier, faced with an eerily similar decision, Jim Harbaugh had declined a first down that would've given him a chance to kill an opponent, and he had paid for it. Here the opponent was already dead. Yet THIS time--perhaps egged on by the Bucs' chippy play--Harbaugh showed us how much things had changed.

Harbaugh decided to kill ‘em again.

On the very next play, Alex Smith threw a touchdown pass, his third of the day. And the Niners, officially, were back.

After Dallas, the buzzword was "identity." Apparently unwilling to inflict his own--an identity of almost violent aggression--Harbaugh seemed to be groping around. Waiting, it seemed, for his players to pick an identity for themselves. So during the following game and a half, his players groped around as well, looking lost in a meandering murk.

Then they played that second half. Down big in Philly with nothing to lose, they threw caution to the wind, staging a comeback so focused in its energy, so inspired in its power, you could almost sense the collective discovery.

For Harbaugh in particular, the discovery was this: They're ready. Ready to reach out and CRUSH someone.

Against the Bucs, they didn't wait. Set up at the 50 by another excellent Ted Ginn return, the drive went as follows. A quick Smith pass to Frank Gore for six. The obligatory Gore-up-the-middle-for-one. Another quick pass to Gore for 12. And a deep, perfect pass to Delanie Walker for the score.

Passing first. It just works.

And just as you'd draw it up, this aggressiveness rubbed off on our defense, particularly the secondary. Torched last week by Michael Vick's aerial circus, the coverage was almost literally attached to the Bucs' receivers. Carlos Rogers and Chris Culliver picked off passes on consecutive drives; Rogers scored on the first, and Smith cashed in on the second when another deep pass drew a flag at the goal line. The Bucs' defense started to sag, and that's when Gore started sapping their will. Yet Smith continued to lead the way, hitting Vernon Davis for two more scores, proving you CAN take points off the board.

And Harbaugh didn't even stop there, passing on fourth-and-three to set up a touchdown whose sole purpose was to humiliate. He paid for this one, with Josh Morgan's ankle, but dare I say that he bought something more. As Harbaugh put it, his eyes blazing: "We're not taking a knee with four minutes left in the game."

These, at last, are Harbaugh's Niners.

Of course, an aggressive identity is one thing; executing it is another, and we've got no choice but to give some props to those main recipients of our abuse. Aided by Harbaugh's versatile schemes, as well as Smith's quick decisions and this general infusion of nasty, the offensive line was virtually perfect. A tougher test lies ahead next week, but, yeah, against the Bucs, these guys surely did not suck.

Which brings us, inevitably, to Smith himself.

It's pretty clear that Smith will never fill up a stat sheet. Even in THIS game, which he thoroughly dominated, he completed 11 passes for 170 yards. The touchdowns spiffed up the quarterback rating--where good God he's now third in the league--but Smith just isn't a numbers guy, and that's likely the way it'll always be.

But my word, the difference is real. Truly, unbelievably real. His reads, decisions, and accuracy, not to mention his command and confidence: everything exponentially better. In past years, things devolved to the point where there was a sense of doom every time he dropped back. Now that sense is upside down; an incompletion is met with surprise, and an interception would be downright shocking.

It's way too soon to say that Smith is once again our QB of the future. Something tells me that eventually we'll still need more than Smith can give. But we can't deny this simple truth, which once had seemed unthinkable:

We can run a pass-first O, and we can win with Alex Smith.

But the bigger story, of course, is Harbaugh, and his restoration of the Niners' identity. As you might know, for years now I've been agitating about getting back to our glorious roots. Not only winning, but winning the way the Niners SHOULD win. Winning the way that once was uniquely our own. Winning the way that once made us special.

You see, I'm a Niner fan, truly I am, but my fandom is somewhat complex. It's not any better or worse than yours; it's just complicated. Sure, like you, I love the Niners. But just as much, I love the Niners in the abstract. Not only what they are, but also what they should represent: a style, a vision. The ultimate melding of mind and muscle. Genius, which will kick your ass.

The Niners wasted years and years, trying on these strange identities that just didn't fit. Some of us feared that the real Niners, the true Niners, might've been lost forever. But on this glorious day, Jim Harbaugh delivered a stirring message. A message fueled by a primal rebirth. A message that said, beyond any doubt:

We are the Niners. And we will simply destroy you.