There was a feel of the ’80s at Candlestick on Monday. Not only because Alex Smith was kneeling down as the clock ran out. Not only because the crowd was screaming, noise that reverberated back into time, but because the 49ers played the way they once played — and presumably may play again.
That was a big Monday evening at the ’Stick. It may have been a landmark game, a game which made the faithful — those in uniform, those in the seats — believe the good times are coming back.
The Arizona Cardinals were in last year’s Super Bowl and will be in this year’s playoffs. But against the Niners, they were never in the game with San Francisco winning 24-9.
Against the Niners, they turned the ball over seven times. Against the Niners, they were outgained 327-245 in total yards. Against the Niners, they didn’t have a chance.
For the Niners, there’s a chance, a very good one, for the first time since 2002 to finish a season with as many wins as defeats.
They are 6-7 now, with games against Philadelphia, Detroit and St. Louis. Strange things happen in the NFL, but the 49ers ought to win two of those. The 49ers ought to end up 8-8. The 49ers ought to be where they haven’t been in seven years: respectable, even feared.
“That was the thing we talked about all week,” Niners coach Mike Singletary said. “Let’s see how good we can be without killing ourselves in the process. With the exception of a couple of turnovers we had, I think we came out and did that.”
They did it because a third-year safety from the University of Washington, Dashon Goldson, played safety like, well not quite Ronnie Lott, but effectively enough to bewilder Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner.
They did it because a fourth-year linebacker from Virginia, Ahmad Brooks, had three sacks.
They did it because Frank Gore, virtually inactive the last couple of weeks, ran 25 times for 167 yards and a touchdown and Alex Smith completed 19 of 35 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns, along with two interceptions.
A “Monday Night Football” game, an ESPN game, a stand up and be counted game.
“Going into this game,” Singletary said, “we really just talked about playing true to our identity and the physicality and [being] mentally tough and disciplined. Our guys were hungry, and they just wanted to go out in front of a national audience and really show what they are capable of, and I think they did that.”
They did that. What the Cardinals (8-5) did was make you wonder if they were in another world. Three offsides penalties the first six plays, five lost fumbles, two interceptions. They’re going to win NFC West, but they didn’t win either of two games this season against the 49ers.
The Niners have been waiting for a game like this, their best in many a season.
“All I could say was, ‘Wow,’” Singletary gasped. “The defense just kept coming up with plays.”
Coming up with plays that once won them championships. Coming up with plays that made us think they may win those championships once more.
“I’m very excited about our team,” Singletary said.
He isn’t alone.