SANTA CLARA — Offensive lineman Joe Staley relished his shining moment after catching 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 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, entering November, the team already holds a 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 former tight end 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. Quarterback Alex Smith called his post-catch display “prima donnaish” for someone at his position.
“If he wants to call me a prima donna, I'll be a prima donna,” Staley said. “As long as we win.”
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 next Sunday, is 6-1 for the first time since 1998. That includes three come-from-behind road wins.
“I was laughing. I gave him a 10 on that one,” defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said of Staley's performance, noting he now wants a chance to throw a pass. “When I saw him roll out, I'm like, ‘All right, we must be running a screen.' When I saw the ball finally go to him, I said: ‘We've got it all. We've got tackles making catches, we've got nose tackles ... it might be the center next time. (Jonathan) Goodwin might get him one, too.”