SANTA CLARA — The 49ers are headed to Motown with some serious mojo.
Running back Frank Gore reflects on his dominant days at the University of Miami. Cornerback Carlos Rogers also has to go back to his college career at Auburn to find a time when things were going this well.
"We're just rollin,'" Gore said Monday, a day after his second straight 100-yard rushing performance in a 48-3 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Quarterback Alex Smith and San Francisco's improving offense are piling up points — as in 62 the past six quarters — while timely plays by guys like Rogers on defense are creating extra scoring chances and positive field position, too.
Both sides of the ball and special teams have carried the division-leading 49ers to a surprising 4-1 start. Not to mention new kicker David Akers and reliable punter Andy Lee, who are also doing their parts in the "process," as first-year coach Jim Harbaugh always refers to his team's 2011 journey.
The way things have started in the Harbaugh era, that might mean finally ending an eight-year playoff drought come January.
"We're not going to change, but we're going to strive to improve," Harbaugh said.
At this stage last season, the 49ers were 0-5 — the team's worst start since San Francisco dropped seven straight to begin a 2-14 season in 1979, late Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh's first year.
"We ain't even touched the surface," tight end Delanie Walker said. "There's still a lot we haven't done yet. It's early in the season — you're going to see a lot more coming. Alex is going to be the man. You're going to hear a lot more of them chanting &‘Alex' after the game. Just wait and see. It's going to be a roller coaster ride."
While Harbaugh is preaching humility, the 49ers are still riding high. A few postgame tweets from Sunday night tell it all.
Right tackle Anthony Davis (AnthonyDavis76): "Good ol fashioned passionate (butt) whoopin.. lol."
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree (KingCrab15): "48-3 ... "
Beating the Lions on Sunday certainly won't come as easily. And there is sure to be some hype with Harbaugh headed back to the state where he starred for Michigan and was even wooed to be the Wolverines' new coach last winter but ultimately chose to leave Stanford for the 49ers instead.
His players are so glad he did. Most would say Harbaugh is earning every bit of that $25 million, five-year contract he received to lead a franchise that hasn't had a winning season or made the playoffs since 2002.
This 4-1 start is the best since that '02 team that was trounced 31-6 by Tampa Bay in the NFC divisional playoffs.
"It's truly different. I don't even like to go in the past," Walker said. "It's a turnaround. I don't even want to say it's the players because we've got the same players from when I first came here. It's got to be the coaches. Coaches are doing a great job. It's just unbelievable. You can't even speak about it. We're moving on, we're looking to the future. That's why I've never liked to talk about the past. We're setting the standard of real 49er football."
Under Harbaugh, this group has shown it has a legitimate chance to win every week — even against contenders the Niners aren't supposed to beat. San Francisco easily could be undefeated had it not blown a late lead in a 27-24 overtime loss to the Cowboys on Sept. 18.