Author's Note: The following article is not intended to be, in any way, negative. The author is completely aware that the 49ers are six-and-one, a lock for a division title, a near-lock for a playoff bye, and easily the NFL's most shocking success. The author is thoroughly conscious of the fact that the Niners' coach will almost certainly be the Coach of the Year (and he is equally cognizant of the engraved apology that he is likely to owe the Niners' general manager, who just might be the Executive of the Year). In short, the author knows how good he's got it, and he isn't about to complain. We now join our regularly scheduled article, already in progress.

What on earth was THAT?

Over the course of the last three weeks, it seemed like we had discovered ourselves. After a few games of early-season timidity, we'd blown the doors off the Eagles and Bucs. Sure, in Detroit, a tough town with a tough team, the Lions had forced us to grind one out. But at home against the abysmal Browns--and coming off a bye besides--our new, crushing identity would surely reemerge.

Then again....

Running on our first four first-downs, we showed that we were still under the influence of one Frederick P. Grindy, if not his less popular cousin. Of course, with Frank Gore and an increasingly spectacular defense, this still was enough to secure a quick lead. But with first-and-goal at the seven, and a chance to deliver an early KO, a coach who had earlier called for a pass to the left tackle went with Gore up the middle on four straight plays, coming up a few inches short.

A touchdown on the next series pushed our halftime lead to 14, and the Browns seemed to pose little threat. Still, we'd let an opponent hang around, though we'd thought those days were gone for good.

In the second half, the offense just bogged down completely. Running Gore again and again--except when Alex Smith was missing wildly--we picked up one first-down (on one deep pass) through the middle of the fourth. Eventually, and somewhat predictably, at last our defense broke, giving up a deep touchdown pass that brought the Browns within seven.

Now needing a drive to salt the game away, this was the time for Jim Harbaugh's legendary combo of creativity and aggression. In a similar spot in Cincinnati--with the significant difference that we were behind--Harbaugh conjured up a well-schemed drive that put some light into an otherwise dismal offensive day. This game felt so much like that one, it was as if the script was already written.

Then again....

First down, Gore for one. Second down, Gore for six. And third down, Gore, up the middle, for one.

Seriously, what on earth was THAT?

Whatever it was, it wasn't a reason to panic; for in this increasingly magical season, nothing seems able to stop us. So OF COURSE there was a facemask penalty on that awful third-down, giving us a second life that we managed to convert for the clinching field-goal.

In the end, all you could do was shake your head, wondering what to make of these guys. Our go-for-the-throat, pass-first O seemed to vanish, though it must be noted that Smith's second-half play, for the third straight game, showed a substantial decline. Even our running game, which had seemed so energized by the infusion of Kendall Hunter, now reverted to its bell-cow monotony, as Gore's carries outnumbered the rookie's by a final count of 31 to 3. Certainly, these developments are puzzling, renewing the doubt about our "identity." But more importantly, they don't seem to be particularly good harbingers of long-term success.

Then again....

If there's one thing we're learning about Harbaugh, it's that he's surprisingly resistant to pigeonholing. Though I tend to like a clean, consistent offensive approach--pass to set up the run, in the grand tradition of the West Coast Offense--it's almost as if Harbaugh is determined to prove that every week he can win a game in a different way. Pass-first or run-first. Shootout or slugfest. New Alex or Old Alex. Harbaugh seems perfectly willing to mix and match, to devise game-plans so varied in style as to defy easy categorization. Or even, in the case of Gore up the middle for the better part of an afternoon, easy logic.

I've gotta admit--though not by way of complaint, mind you--this kind of bugs me. I'm all for keeping a defense off balance; indeed, I suspect that the invigoration of Smith and the offensive line is chiefly due to the fact that the D has no idea what's coming. But I remain unshakable in my conviction that the passing game must lead the way. Sure, sometimes your opponent is good enough that you're left with no option but grinding it out. But when you CHOOSE to grind it out, when you willingly subject yourself to "bar fights" (as Harbaugh himself described games like these, with evident testosterone), eventually you'll take the last punch. Facemask penalties will save you for only so long.

Then again....

It's been seven games, and the Niners, at least in regulation, have yet to lose. Harbaugh is riding a mystical wave, where every button he pushes works. This team is flying with supreme confidence, knowing that it can win in any of various ways, and knowing that it WILL win in any event. Harbaugh's methods might seem, at times, illogical. But there's no question, he knows what he's doing, and what he's doing is working better than any of us had dared to dream.

We've got plenty of reason to trust Jim Harbaugh. But an all-new measure of his greatness is this: even after this kind of game, where reason sort of drops away, the trust itself remains--a trust that exists, even in the absence of reason.

According to some, that's called faith. And in this increasingly magical season, faith is what Jim Harbaugh's earned.