49ers visit Redskins, seeking 6th straight win
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) - You got questions about the San Francisco 49ers' winning streak?
So does Jim Harbaugh.
"Are we good enough to keep winning?" the 49ers coach asked. "Are we disciplined enough to keep learning? Are we smart enough? Are we going to learn from mistakes that we've made? Are we tough enough? Do we have the right amount of work ethic, and can we do it week-in and week-out? Can we get motivated to where we need to be
"So we have more questions than we have answers. We're trying to figure them out ourselves."
About the only thing he left out was "Stay tuned for next week's episode," but that's a given for the 49ers these days. Who wouldn't want to watch a team that's won five straight and already has a four-game division lead in early November?
It's a team that wins the old-fashioned way - run and stop the run - in the newfangled pass-all-the-time NFL. A team that is the first in 91 years to rush for a touchdown while not allowing a rushing touchdown in each of its first seven games.
"The start that we have had, I didn't think at the beginning we were going to be that good," said cornerback Carlos Rogers, who signed with the 49ers this year after six seasons in Washington.
"Just seeing guys playing, seeing guys focus and seeing how we work, I'm thinking that we can win every game if we come in with that same mentality," Rogers said. "Our coaches do a good job of keeping our heads level. It's always about how sorry the 49ers are going to be, coach Harbaugh's in his first season ... all the negative things. He always reminds us of that and keeps that in our head, that people thought we were going to be sorry. Don't get too high about people praising us right now because as soon as we lose a game or something, they're going to be back down on us."
These 49ers (6-1) are that rare West Coast team that actually does well traveling east. They've already won at Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Detroit, so Washington will be their fourth game with a 10 a.m. kickoff - Pacific time.
The Redskins (3-4) aren't winning anywhere right now. They've lost three straight and four of five and are coming off a 23-0 shellacking against Buffalo in Toronto. The offense has too many injuries, the defense can't stop the run - not good news when Frank Gore is coming to town - and they're reached that familiar portion of the season when veterans start talking about holding the locker room together.
"There's always going to be rumblings," Washington defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "And when things goes wrong, that's when you find out the type of people you're in the locker room with, the type of people you're in the building with.
"People asked me when I got here, 'Did I like my coaches and stuff?' I say everything's great early. When the bullets start flying and things get bad, you find the true character of people. So we'll see how it goes. I don't see serious issues with any kind of divisiveness in the locker room, anything like that, and hopefully that doesn't happen. Because once that happens, the season will definitely be over."
Harbaugh is in his first year with the 49ers, while coach Mike Shanahan is working through his second season in Washington. It's worth noting they were faced with similar choices when taking over their respective teams - what to do with a 2005 first-round draft pick quarterback who hadn't fulfilled his potential.
Shanahan opted not to give Jason Campbell another shot, and the Redskins have since been wandering through the quarterback wilderness - from Donovan McNabb to Rex Grossman to John Beck - searching for a suitable replacement.
Harbaugh decided to stick with Alex Smith, who is having his best season, albeit an easier one because of the strong running game. While Grossman and Beck have combined for 12 interceptions, Smith has thrown only two.
"I went and watched a lot of tape on him going back to the last four years. I found him to be a tough, good, starting NFL quarterback," Harbaugh said.
"And I think the thing that was especially intriguing to me beyond those other things was that it seemed like he wanted to come back here. He wanted to prove himself in San Francisco, a place that, if you're being fair and honest, would say threw him under the bus on more than one occasion, or at least made him the scapegoat.
"That he would want his fresh start to be here was, I thought, a rare character trait. Somewhere between rare and extinct, probably, in today's world."
A good answer - from a coach with lots of questions.