Niners sew up NFC West

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh (C) yells from the sideline during the first half of...

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh (C) yells from the sideline during the first half of their NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Maryland, November 6, 2011. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Bill Lankhof, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:26 PM ET

After being a punchline for most of the past decade, the San Francisco 49ers are turning the NFC West into a joke.

The 49ers beat the Washington Redskins 19-11 on Sunday to wrap up the division title and there are indications they could be the best team in the NFC not named the Packers.

They aren’t fancy but quarterback Alex Smith seems to have learned that all he needs to do is not mess things up and Frank Gore will take care of the rest. Oh yeah, and the defence has given up fewer points than any other team.

Gore had 107 yards on 19 carries for his fifth straight 100-yard game. Smith hit fullback Bruce Miller with a 30-yard TD pass and David Akers kicked four field goals.

Game over.

The 49ers, 4-0 on the road for the first time since 1992, have a defence that hasn’t allowed a rushing TD this season and the inept Redskins had just 52 yards on the ground. Quarterback John Beck again had trouble finding open receivers, completing 30 of 47 passes for 254 yards and one interception.

Their only major — and first in eight quarters — came when Beck hit Jabar Gaffney with 1:10 remaining.

Last year, Seattle won the division with seven wins. This year, nine weeks into the season, the 49ers already are 7-1 and have their longest winning streak since 1997.

ELECTRIC ELI

Eli Manning stole Tom Brady’s script.

Brady, the master of the fourth quarter comeback, came within 96 seconds of writing the 35th such win of his career Sunday. Instead it was Manning who gave the Giants a 24-20 win when he fired the winning touchdown to Jake Ballard with 15 seconds left in a wild fourth quarter that saw four lead changes.

“Hard fought game. We just came up a couple plays short,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, after Manning marched the Giants 80 yards in just over a minute. The loss put New England into a three-way tie for the AFC East lead with the Bills and Jets, who they visit next Sunday night with the possibility of lossing three consecutive games.

The last time the Giants and New England met, Manning upstaged Brady and led the Giants to a historic upset of the unbeaten 19-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII nearly four years ago. The winning score then came when Manning threw a TD pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining. This one had an eerily similar finish.

Brady had the Giants exactly where he has had so many teams when he hit Rob Gronkowski in the middle of the endzone to put New England ahead 20-17 with 1:36 left.

But then Manning, who ranks as the league’s best fourth-quarter quarterback this season, began to pick apart a New England secondary that had kept him in check through a scoreless first half.

That was unexpected with Manning facing the worst pass defence in the league and that bubble of happiness burst for New England in the fourth quarter. An interference penalty by Kyle Arrington set up Manning’s TD pass to Mario Mannington with 3:03 to play. Then on the winning drive Sergio Brown’s penalty for pushing down Victory Cruz set up the Giants at the goal line. From there, Manning hit Jake Ballard with the winning throw.

New York’s defence pressured Brady much of the game, coming up with two sacks and two interceptions. New England also lost two fumbles, ending a 20 game home win streak dating back to 2008.

BETTER BELIEVE IT

This might be the most unexpected recovery since Lazarus opened his eyes and said: “What’s for breakfast?”

The Cincinnati Bengals continued their remarkable resurgence from the NFL’s version of death’s door with a 24-17 win.

It came against Tennessee and it was, naturally, in comeback fashion. Andy Dalton threw for three touchdowns, 217 yards and no interceptions as the Bengals rallied from 10 points down.

Cincinnati won its fifth in a row, its longest winning streak since 1988. That just happened to be the year the Bengals won the AFC and went all the way to the Super Bowl. This year they are doing it with a mix of young and unheralded players from Dalton to rookie Colin Cochart, one of three different receivers to catch TD passes.

This is a team that has come from disarray and veteran malcontents to over-achieving challengers to the mighty Steelers. Who knew this could happen? Certainly not Carson Palmer.


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