For the second week in a row the 49ers got the best of an AFC East opponent, handing the divisional leaders a 24-14 defeat at Candlestick Park on Sunday.
"I think it was a big step for myself and this team," said quarterback Shaun Hill. "For this team, this win is huge, to beat an opponent like this and to go back-to-back and get victories against two good opponents. This is really big for our program."
The 49ers put the ball on the ground four times in the first half, but instead of leading to the team's downfall, San Francisco created a windfall as tackle Joe Staley made a heads up play to recover a Jason Hill fumble in the end zone for the first points of the game.
"It was just an exciting play," said Staley. "We were just doing our job. We're taught as an o-line to finish down the field. After we finish our blocks, we see the wide receiver going downfield, just to follow the ball, you never know what's going to happen. We turned a negative into a positive and we're able to get seven points out of it and we kept the momentum throughout the game."
Sure the first turnover, a Michael Robinson fumble on a 2nd and 1 play at the Jets 26, had prevented San Francisco from taking a lead right out of the gates after driving from their own 20, but overcoming adversity is one of the most telling signs of a maturing Mike Singletary team.
"Even when we make mistakes, we're able to come back and deal with them on the spot, let them go and then, "Let's go ahead and build off of that. What did we learn?" Rather than getting down and pointing the finger, blame, whatever. We're not doing that. We're not going there," said Singletary. "You make a mistake, "Hey, we know that we're trying to do it as best we can. So let's pick it up, let's encourage each other, let's move on."
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre has spirited a turn-around in New York this season, but the same seems to be holding true for the 49ers starting quarterback, who is 3-2 since taking over as the team's starter.
While Favre ran in a 2-yard touchdown to even the game at 7-7 with 5:21 to go in the second quarter, the Jets quarterback managed only 137 passing yards against a stingy 49ers defense that was without its star player in cornerback Nate Clements.
"I think our coaches really stressed to us that they have a great wide receiver group and Brett is capable of getting hot at any time," said cornerback Tarell Brown. "So we just prepared all during the week. The scout team gave us a good look as far as their offense. And we just prepared hard like we do every week. We were just sound. We didn't have too many breakdowns and that was the key."
Hill meanwhile attacked the Jets backend, throwing at least one ball to ten different receivers en route to a 285-yard passing day.
"I downplayed it all week," said Hill of competing against Favre. "I just shoved it away in the back of my mind. When I got in the locker room after the game, I was able to kind of take a step back. That was really neat to play against him and for our team to come away with the win. That is something I'll be able to tell the kids and grandkids way on down the road."
In recent weeks, wide receiver Isaac Bruce has emerged as Hill's top target. He did so again in Sunday's victory, catching 6 passes in Sunday's win for 70 yards, including three receptions that converted third downs.
"He's playing great," said Hill of Bruce. "He's playing so big, making every play that he has a chance to make. You know where he's going to be, yards after catch, all those things. He's playing wonderfully."
Even though Hill's lone mishap occurred on a throw to Bruce that was picked by linebacker David Bowens couldn't damper Hill's praise for his future Hall of Fame wideout.
"On the interception, I take full responsibility," said Hill. "I love what he did on it. I have to anticipate that. Like I said, the more we play together, the better we'll be at stuff like that. But he saw the guy inside and he pivoted. There was nobody out there. He knows what he's doing out there. I just have to get on the same page with him. I can't say enough great things about him."
The Jets used the short field after Bowens' 52-yard return again tie the game at 14-14 with 5:29 in the third quarter on Thomas Jones' 17-yard touchdown run, but the defense then buckled down. Jones, who already has a 1,000 rushing yards on the year, finished with only 56 yards on the ground as the Jets offense never made it beyond their own 38-yardline for the remainder of the game.
"Jones is a good running back. He snuck out on us one time and scored," said linebacker Joe Staley. "I have a lot of respect for him, but at the same too, I have a lot of respect for our defense and what we're trying to accomplish and we've been working on. It showed off today."
Hill bounced back from his interception, marching his unit back down to the Jets 14-yardline despite two offensive holding penalties including one that negated a 28-yard touchdown pass to Delanie Walker. Although Hill didn't get his unit into the end zone, the 12 play drive allowed the 49ers to re-take the lead with a 32-yard field goal by Joe Nedney.
Fortunately a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Jets running back Leon Washington was negated due to a hold back at the 40.
"That was huge. It would have been a momentum changer," said cornerback Reggie Smith, who recovered a fumble on a muffed punt earlier in the game. "Keith Lewis was the one who got held, and he said he would have made the play. I had no idea what had happened, I was just trying to chase him down as fast as I could. It was a big break for us. It could have changed the outlook of the game."
The defense followed up the negated return with a quick three and out series, that led to a punt and a 19-yard return by wide receiver Arnaz Battle to set Hill and company up at the Jets 49.
After being denied the end zone on the previous drive, Bryant Johnson came up with a diving 3-yard touchdown catch to secure the 49ers with a 10-point fourth quarter margin.
"We got a lot of man coverage out there and the big thing for us this week has been defeating man coverage," said Johnson. "We had a double move down there and we had man on that play and I was able to beat him and Shaun was able to give me a chance to make a play."
Hill completed all five of his passes on the 10-play drive that combined with the running efforts of DeShaun Foster, who took over early in the third quarter when Frank Gore exited with an ankle injury, covered 51 total yards.
With the 24-14 lead, the defense pinned back their ears and got after the Jets offense late in the game. Linebacker Parys Haralson accounted for 1.5 of 3 sacks that helped end a pair of late fourth quarter drives that were sandwiched around a Walt Harris interception on a deep desperation throw by Favre.
"It always feels good when you get your hand on the ball," said Harris. "I come to every game thinking, 'I have to get my hand on the ball, get my hands on the ball.' And it was a tribute to the whole defense playing good defense all throughout the game and just going up and getting the ball."
And the fact that the 49ers notched back to back wins for the first time all year is also a tribute to a San Francisco squad that just keeps playing better.
"Every week we want to come in and play well," said Harris. "We know that we have a good team once we play as a team. No matter who we play, we can beat anybody on any given Sunday if we play as a team."
The loss dropped the Jets to 8-4, tying them now for the division lead with the Dolphins, who beat the Bills on Sunday in Toronto.
The 49ers, who lost their chances of winning the NFC West after Arizona's win over the Rams, will play Miami next Sunday on the road.