Been a while.
And yes I know the "magic number" is generally a baseball thing, but the 49ers are already so comically close to clinching their division, the Mediterranean and Baltic Ave. of Pro Football the NFC West that its worth the laugh of throwing it out there halfway through the season.
So there really wasn't much to say about the Cleveland Browns, before or after. Didn't know much about them and still don't; as far as national football media coverage is concerned, they're the Cleveland Peyton Hillises, and Peyton Hillis is out with an injury. Or perhaps jaking it because the Browns won't pay him what he believes he's now worth as Madden 12 Cover Boy/The Rare And Mythical White Running Back. A situation with which I can empathise, as the 49ers are still mostly covered in terms of "Frank Gore, who you might have on your fantasy team" and "OMG Jim Harbaugh doesn't handshake by the rules!". 6-1 and the second best record in football behind only undefeated Green Bay is only turning heads at a glacial pace, it seems.
As it turns out, the Browns seem to have a really good corps of young linebackers who cover lots of ground, fly to the ball, and can get all up in the grill your backfield, because they did it a lot, at one point managing an impressive goal line stand where the aforementioned Gore was stopped on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th down all from inside the 2. I might be tempted to bemoan the unimaginative lack of a play action bootleg on 3rd or 4th, but really, the more concerning sign was that the 49ers on all three plays were going with what appears to be Harbaugh's Pet Formation: bringing in the BEEF of extra offensive and defensive linemen to play Fullback and Tight End, sometimes even lining up in the Ancient T Formation with 3 RBs behind Alex Smith. The 49ers go to this Jumbo/Hippo package a lot. Harbaugh's old program/coaching staff at Stanford still does it a lot too. More often than not it works pretty well, and with RBs like Gore and Kendall Hunter a team should be able to get 3 yards in a cloud of dust almost at will. But they didn't in this potentially pivotal situation. Something to worry about going forward.
Later on, the path to 49er victory was eventually paved by play action/bootleg out of that jumbo package and THROWING to the eligible linemen. Joe Staley got his first career reception early in the game, with Cleveland completely surprised by it. The same play was just as unexpected and effective in the eventual winning drive, with a clutch 3rd down reception by Isaac Sopoaga that eventually set up the FG that established a 2 score lead with less than 2 minutes left. This was a nice wrinkle/new feature of the Harbaugh offense, and, lets face it, was fun as hell to watch. Linemen finally getting a chance to run around with the ball is fun. They had good hands, too!
Likewise, there isn't much for me to say about this week's game in DC. Raven Mack has covered it pretty thoroughly. Chris Cooley is out for the year with an injury and the 'Skins are in the unenviable position of a Rex Grossman vs John Beck Quarterback Controversy, perversely fitting for a D.C. based team to have such a close analogue to the "Slightly Lesser Of Two Evils" exasperated debate so many of us feel about Democrats v. Republicans as we suspect deep down they're essentially the same evil after all. As Bill Hicks used to joke, " 'I think the Left Puppet shares my beliefs.' 'I find the Puppet on the Right more to my liking.' 'Hey wait there's one guy holding up both puppets!' " The sinister one man in this and all cases for Redskins fans remains Dan Snyder. Snyder weighs in at roughly -10000 in Raven Mack's Metascientific Analysis of positive and negative contributions to the team, which amazingly might still be understating matters. A bad owner permanently cripples a team. Quarterbacks can be benched, Coaches can be fired, but there is no redress of grievances to remove/replace an owner. All a fan base can do is boycott; stop buying tickets and replica jerseys, but of course even that doesn't work because the NFL TV contract funnels money into all 32 coffers so the owners can insulate themselves against just this very thing and make money in spite of their own incompetence or unwillingness to compete as the case may be.
And deep down, the 49er Faithful still have the same sentiment about the Yorks. It's been muted the last two months of course; nobody around here is creatively subbing the York surname into their tirades of profanity ("Motheryorker", "Son Of A York", "This is some serious Bullyork") anymore or demanding the impossible pipedream of the Yorks selling the team back to Uncle Eddie DeBartolo, though 49er fans reserve the right to resume this bitching once the team starts to tailspin again, be it later this year, or next, or beyond. For what its worth, Kid Jed has regularly sought his uncle out for advice and seems to both A) have his ego invested in on-field success, and B) have the awareness to know he doesn't know football, and thus stays out of the way of the people who do know football that he's hired to do football things. Reading ACLB will let you know 'Skins fans know B) does not apply to Snyder at all and A) is dubious at best when he's shaking down grandmothers for season ticket money on tickets they don't want to renew, banning tailgating, and feuding with local newspapers.
Vegas is favoring the 49ers on the road, and the 49ers as Road Favorites is simply remarkable given recent history. Its probably a national vote of no-confidence on Beck and Grossman, which is understandable. However, lest we 49er Faithful get too smug amid the tendency to make "LOL Intersexion Cannon" jokes and playing the song "Loser" by [no relation] Beck on our iPods for all to hear, let us remember that until this season got underway Alex Smith was coxswain in the rowboat of QB Fail himself. Last year we chanted -- UNIRONICALLY -- for David Carr to come into games. 6-1 minus 3-4 = a very small margin. A margin that can disappear if Alex has a relapse into the performance of years past, and, much like the Faithful's cautious and temporary truce with the Yorks, the newfound love/tolerance for the new and improved Alex Smith is very much conditional, and the condition is, as always in pro sports, Winning.