Niners are right where they need to be at midway point

Bob Martin/USA TODAY SportsThe ability to consistently establish Frank Gore and the running game is a big reason

Bob Martin/USA TODAY SportsThe ability to consistently establish Frank Gore and the running game is a big reason

After five straight wins, it's clear the 49ers are still legitimate Super Bowl contenders heading into the second half of the 2013 season.

They're 6-2, right where they were at this point last year, and they should only get better as the days shorten, fall turns to winter and the intensity of every game magnifies.

With Sunday's 42-10 win over the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, the 49ers reached 30 points for a fifth straight game, proving they're capable of throwing around the runts of the NFL's litter with their power-rushing game, aggressive defense and smart coaching. But can they exert their will on the best teams in the league?

Five weeks ago, the 49ers appeared to be suffering from a phenomenon often referred to as the Super Bowl hangover. At 1-2, they looked sluggish and uninspired while Colin Kaepernick's play reflected a quarterback with only 13 games under his belt.

But as the picture takes shape, it's obvious that the team's 1-2 start was misleading. The Seattle Seahawks are potentially the best home team in NFL history and the Indianapolis Colts followed up their upset win at Candlestick with victories against the Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. In hindsight, both losses are respectable.

And the 49ers started the season from behind the eight ball with a depleted wide receiver corps, injuries on defense and the loss of Aldon Smith, which is why they should be optimistic about where they're at after eight weeks of football.

At this point, the team's only glaring weakness is the passing game. Prior to Sunday's showdown in London, the 49ers ranked dead last in the NFL in passing offense (189.9 yards per game), an area that will need to improve if they're going to hang with the Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints down the stretch.

Fortunately, this is a problem with a solution. Right now, the receiving corps has only 16 catches for 142 yards minus Anquan Boldin's production, but with Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree expected to rejoin the team, the situation should straighten itself out.

With Crabtree and Manningham, the offense has the potential to be dynamic. Greg Roman can pound the ball, run the read-option or spread things out and defenses won't be able to prepare for how he's going to use all these pieces together.

The 49ers' defense should also be bolstered by the return of several key players over next few weeks. Smith could return in the near future, second-round pick Tank Carradine will suit up on the defensive line soon and former Pro Bowler Eric Wright is preparing to join the secondary.

Adding the league's best pass rusher, a shutdown corner and a highly touted rookie to an already stingy defense could make the unit as tough as any in the league.

But will these additions be enough to get the 49ers past the Saints in the Superdome on Nov. 17 and Seahawks at the 'Stick on Dec. 8?

If so, the 49ers will be well-positioned for a trip to New York in February, wiping away any memories of their miserable 1-2 start while debunking the notion of the Super Bowl hangover.

49ersNinersPaul Gackle

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