Joe Staley relished his shining moment after the offensive lineman caught a 17-yard pass and celebrated madly with a two-handed point downfield to signal the first down.
Nose tackle and part-time fullback Isaac Sopoaga got into the action with a key 18-yard reception in the second half.
“I have one opportunity to score and do a dance and I had to show off my moves,” Staley said.
The San Francisco 49ers know they’re going well when the big boys are catching meaningful balls to move the chains. They realize all is right when a flat second half still leads to a 10-point victory, as happened in Sunday’s 20-10 win over Cleveland. And, when, before October is over, the team already holds a commanding four-game cushion in the NFC West.
Coach Jim Harbaugh has become creative with his play-calling, spending the past two months learning who might be able to deliver in given situations even if it’s an unconventional choice – such as the former tight end, Staley, and ex-rugby player, Sopoaga.
Staley, the talented left tackle and leader of the offensive line, made the most of his opportunity in the spotlight.
The catch matched the longest by an offensive lineman in franchise history, and Staley became the first 49ers O-lineman with a reception since Chris Dalman on Nov. 20, 1995, at Miami.
They’re all having fun during this surprising five-game winning streak, the team’s first since 2001 – well before most of the core Niners players were even in the league. San Francisco, which travels to Washington to face the Redskins this week, is 6-1 for the first time since 1998. They already have three come-from-behind road wins.
“I was laughing. I gave him a 10 on that one,” said defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois of Staley’s performance, noting he now wants a chance to throw a pass.
The way they have set themselves up, Harbaugh’s 49ers could clinch their division and the franchise’s first playoff berth in nine years before that highly anticipated matchup with the coach’s big brother, John, and the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving Day.
“The approach is not even concerning ourselves with the standings till we get to December,” Harbaugh said. “Then we’ll see how many we have, see how many we need.”
The injury situation is looking better for the Rams and the Texans this week, with star players from each team showing signs of being ready to return.
St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford is no longer wearing a protective boot on his left ankle and began to exercise Monday, while Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson could be cleared to play after missing four games with a right hamstring injury.
However, Texans linebacker Darryl Sharpton will have surgery this week after tearing a tendon in his right quadriceps in Sunday’s win against Jacksonville.
A person familiar with the status of Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey says medical tests show no damage to the rookie’s neck, and he might be able to return to practice this week.
Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb had his right foot in a walking boot to protect a turf toe injury and said he had “no idea” whether he would be able to play in Sunday’s home game against St. Louis.
The New York Giants came out of their win over Miami with a few players nicked up. Center David Bass (right knee) and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) are day to day, running back Ahmad Bradshaw has a sore right foot and cornerback Justin Tryon is likely out for the rest of the season with a broken right arm.
Cleveland Browns running back Montario Hardesty has a torn calf muscle and is expected to miss some games.
Raiders sign Sheppard
The Oakland Raiders returned from their bye week by signing former Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard and are planning a workout for former Pro Bowl receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Houshmandzadeh played in Cincinnati with new Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer and was coached by current Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, but has been out of the league this season.
Manning still active
The Indianapolis Colts will keep Peyton Manning on the active roster so he can practice later this season, though it remains unlikely Manning will play in a game.
Bill Polian, the team’s vice chairman, told radio listeners that he would not necessarily want Manning playing behind their banged-up offensive line.