The San Francisco 49ers find themselves in a somewhat unfamiliar position: first place in the NFC West. "Who's got it better than us?" they ask themselves, and "Nooooo-body!" is the response, thanks to Jim Harbaugh. But regardless of how good they have it (or think they have it), they've got another stiff test as they arrive back in the Bay Area: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A week ago, the game may have seemed like a long shot to many, after the team struggled with the Cincinnati Bengals, but now with the comeback win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the bag, spirits are running high. The return to Candlestick Park will be a lot more energetic.
Against the Eagles, they gave up a ton of yardage on defense to Michael Vick, and didn't put up big numbers themselves. That is until the second half, when Alex Smith started clicking, with touchdown passes to Josh Morgan and Vernon Davis, and Frank Gore smashed Philly's hopes with a couple first downs and a game-tying touchdown. Justin Smith's forced fumble on Jeremy Maclin was also one of the best plays of the week, and sealed the deal for the win.
It wasn't just that they beat the Eagles, (which was, apparently, against all odds, as an Eagles win was a "stone-cold mortal lock", thanks Mr. Eskin) it was that they came back and won a game that they were losing badly. Mike Singletary's "fysical" 49ers wouldn't have been able to come back, and Mike Nolan's "be stubborn to the point of rolling over and dying instead of adapting," mantra would have led for a point differential the likes of which haven't been seen since ... well ... the Kansas City Chiefs in weeks one and two.
They did get to see the Buccaneers live on Monday, if they had a mind to. The Bucs took on the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football and, despite a late start, won and looked good doing it. There's plenty to take from the game and where they stand right now. The biggest things to note were the play from the defense, and quarterback Josh Freeman. He took a while to really get settled, and if the 49ers can somehow do a better job than Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney and get to Freeman early, then they can throw him off his game and jump on the Buccaneers early.
As far as the defense goes, you can read it how you want to. They gave up chunks of yardage to wide receivers, big chunks, but also were swarming Curtis Painter for the majority of the game, with four sacks and at least a few more hits on top of that. With the 49ers offensive line in the state it has been lately, they'll need to pay special attention to someone like Adrian Clayborn, who abused the Colts on Monday. Against the Eagles, all three sacks given up came from Jason Babin, so it really only takes one guy and one matchup to get to Alex Smith on the best of days, it seems.
3-1, returning from a 2-0 road trip, the 49ers will take it. The schedule gets a little tougher from here on, but if Jim Harbaugh has showed us anything, he's showed us that his team will be ready, and if they're not, he'll make adjustments and put themselves in the best positions to be ready. It should be a good game, stay tuned for more in-depth analysis throughout the week.