No question, San Francisco 49ers one of top teams in NFL

AP file photoThe wet weather and some miscues held the Niners to a 9-0 halftime lead Sunday on three David Akers field goals.

AP file photoThe wet weather and some miscues held the Niners to a 9-0 halftime lead Sunday on three David Akers field goals.

The 49ers are 9-1, second only to the Green Bay Packers’ perfect 10-0, and that’s an accurate summation of their season.

Coming out of the gate, the 49ers stumbled in their second game, an overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Since then, they’ve met every challenge. To summarize:

– In Week 4, they mounted a second-half comeback behind Alex Smith in Philadelphia to beat the Eagles 24-23 with Justin Smith stripping the ball from an Eagles receiver to save the win.

– In Week 5, they destroyed what seemed to be an improving Tampa Bay team 48-3 with a near-perfect performance from offense, defense and special teams.

– In Week 6, they beat a previously undefeated Lions team in Detroit 25-19. It was their third win in the Eastern time zone and they would add a fourth against the Redskins in their Virginia stadium.

– In Week 9, they beat the New York Giants, their toughest opponent yet, in a heart-stopping 27-20 win, as Justin Smith knocked down a fourth-down pass from Eli Manning with just over a minute left.

Two days ago, they faced a different type of challenge, playing a weak team, the Arizona Cardinals, just four days before they have to face the Ravens in Baltimore on Thanksgiving Day.

This is the kind of game that has upset written all over it, because it’s so easy for a good team to let down. Just ask the Packers, who struggled to beat Tampa Bay 35-26, a win that wasn’t secure until Aaron Rodgers threw a 40-yard touchdown late.

Rain during the first half at Candlestick on Sunday contributed to 49ers problems. Both Alex Smith and his receivers had problems with the slippery ball. The 49ers tried six field goals, but only hit on three for a 9-0 lead.

But in the third quarter, the 49ers drove for two touchdowns to take a 23-0 lead. The game outcome was not in doubt after that.

It was easily the worst performance by the 49ers this season — but they still won the game. That’s what the best teams do, and the 49ers are in that elite class now.

It’s amazing how the perception of the team has changed through football. The “power rankings” in national publications have put them second, behind only the Packers, who are defending Super Bowl champions.

Before the season started, expectations were that the 49ers could make the playoffs because they were in such a weak division; Seattle won the NFC West last year with just seven wins.

But the Niners haven’t needed that boost. Only two of their nine wins have come against division foes. Now, the question is whether they can have the No. 2 ranking in the postseason, which would mean starting play at home, and the answer would seem to be yes.

Of their remaining games, the only good opponents will be the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Monday night game Dec. 19 at Candlestick. The other four games are against the NFC West patsies.

Jim Harbaugh has done this with only a few changes from last year. That shows how good a coach he is — and how bad Mike Singletary was.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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