For two weeks, the San Francisco 49ers were gaining street cred as one of the NFLs elite teams. Last week, the momentum was snuffed out by a surprising loss to Minnesota.
This Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J., quarterback Alex Smith & Co. gets a chance to bounce back against a New York Jets team still reeling from the lost of its single most important player.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis tore the ACL in his left knee in a Week 3 win and will miss the remainder of the season, shutting down the position he's branded league-wide as "Revis Island."
The Niners scored 57 points and had one turnover in season-opening defeats of Green Bay and Detroit, but scored just once and turned the ball over three times in the 24-13 loss to the Vikings.
They were also held to 89 rush yards after gaining 334 in weeks one and two.
"When you're only putting up 13 points on offense, it's usually not going to get it done. We've got to get better," Smith said. "We didn't execute well enough in the red zone. We kicked too many field goals down there. We would love to get (touchdowns). There's a lot we can get better on."
With Revis out, New York will try to rely on a combination of Antonio Cromartie, labeled by coach Rex Ryan as "a No. 1 corner," and 2010 first-round draft pick Kyle Wilson.
"This is a team game, and as a team, we've got to step it up," Ryan said. "I think we'll respond. We certainly have to accept the challenge, and we're going to come out and compete. We might do it a little differently, but we're certainly going to give it our best shot, without question."
Revis left the game against the Dolphins in the third quarter and the Jets held the Dolphins to a field goal in the final 25:38 of play.
Miami's Dan Carpenter missed a field goal in overtime and Nick Folk's blocked attempt was subsequently negated by a Dolphins timeout.
Folk followed by making the game-winner from 33 yards.
The Jets gave up 265 yards and lost in Week 2 in Pittsburgh when Revis was out with a concussion. They allowed less than 200 in defeating Buffalo and Miami. This week, they meet a unit that boasts Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss.
"Everybody's got to step up," Ryan said. "Whatever it takes, that's what we're going to do. We have enough to get it done here. This football team is a bunch of competitors. We will find a way to get this done."
After playing in Minnesota, San Francisco practiced at Youngstown State (Ohio) rather than flying back to California. when doing that last year before an eastern game in Philadelphia, the 49ers rallied for a 24-23 victory as part of an eight-game streak.
Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis practiced in full pads Wednesday after leaving the Minnesota game with a leg injury.
Running back Brandon Jacobs (knee) also practiced, as did Ted Ginn Jr. (ankle). Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga remains out with a knee injury.
"We got very close and that's kind of where we got into our groove last season," left tackle Joe Staley said.
The Jets and Niners have met just 11 times and San Francisco holding a commanding 9-2 advantage.
WHEN THE NINERS HAVE THE BALL
Quarterback Alex Smith is third in the league with a 69.6 completion percentage (64 of 92) and a 102.7 passer rating. In his career, San Francisco is 12-0 when Smith starts and gets to at least a 100.0 rating and Smith has won 16 of his past 20 starts. In the backfield, the Niners have won seven straight when running back Frank Gore has gone for at least 100 yards on the ground. Since 2006, Gore has 7,281 rush yards, the second-highest total in the league. He's also scored at least a rushing TD in five of his past seven games. Including the playoffs, tight end Vernon Davis has eight touchdowns in five games and aims for his sixth in a row with at least one. Since Jan. 1, Davis leads all players with eight receiving scores, and, since 2009, he leads all tight ends with 30 TDs. Veteran wide receiver Randy Moss has 14,946 career receiving yards and moved into fourth on the all-time list last week against Minnesota. He's going for a fourth straight game against the Jets with a TD. Elsewhere, wideout Michael Crabtree aims for his 11th straight game with four or more catches, and, in his past 10, he has 60 receptions. Wideout Mario Manningham had five catches for 56 yards last week, his most as a Niner. Lastly, tackle Joe Staley had a fumble return for a TD in his last meeting with the Jets. Defensively for the Jets, safety LaRon Landry posted his first interception with New York last week against Miami. Linebacker David Harris leads the team with 26 tackles through three games. Up front, end Muhammad Wilkerson has two sacks in his last two games against NFC opponents.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
At 9,919 yards for his career, quarterback Mark Sanchez is 81 passing yards short of 10,000. Sanchez is 9-3 (.750) in September and has 21 TDs, nine interceptions and an 89.6 passer rating. The Jets are 8-2 when Sanchez reaches a 100.0 rating. Running back Shonn Greene has five rush TDs in his past eight games against NFC opponents. The Jets are 4-0 when Greene has 100 or more yards on the ground. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes tied his career-best with nine catches last week and posted his 10th career game with 100 or more receiving yards (147). For his career, Holmes has averaged 17.5 yards per catch vs. NFC foes (80 receptions, 1,399 yards). He's tied with Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace for an AFC-best seven third-down catches with seven. Rookie wideout Stephen Hill had five catches for 89 yards (17.8 avg.) with two TD catches in his only game at home against Buffalo. Also, receiver Jeremy Kerley is averaging 23.1 yards per catch in 2012 (8 receptions, 185 yards). For San Francisco on defense, tackle Justin Smith had a sack the last time he faced the Jets. He's started 174 games in row, the third-longest active streak by a defensive player. Elsewhere, linebacker Aldon Smith has 16.5 sacks in his past 16 games and fellow linebacker NaVorro Bowman led the Niners with 18 tackles last week against Minnesota.
Ryan may say all the right things about his defense remaining viable without Revis. And in his coaching heart of hearts, he may even believe them. However, when the matchups are dissected on paper, it simply doesn't add up. With a multi-pronged receiving threat and a punishing running back, the Niners simply have too much offensive talent for the Jets to compete with. And, with Sanchez veering between prolific in Week 1 to pathetic in two games since, the New York offense doesn't figure to have much luck either.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Niners 24, Jets 10