First place teams meet at Candelstick

October 5, 2011 - 1:40 PM
49ers Eagles Football

San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) scores a touchdown as he is tackled by Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel (22) in the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011 in Philadelphia. The 49ers won 24-23. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

There they stand, the first-place Buccaneers and the first-place 49ers, ready to face off at Candlestick Park.

Can't be, you say. Believe it.

Both teams are 3-1, with Tampa Bay tied atop the highly competitive NFC South with New Orleans. San Francisco not only is alone in first place in the NFC West, it already has a two-game lead.

And the Niners come off a successful two-game road trip during which they didn't bother to return to the Bay Area, following a victory at Cincinnati with what quarterback Alex Smith dubbed "a mini-training camp" in Youngstown, Ohio. Then they headed to Philadelphia, rallied from a 23-3 second-half deficit and beat the struggling Eagles.

Rookie coach Jim Harbaugh has instilled a winning attitude in a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since 2002. He wants them to believe in themselves, just not too much quite yet.

"I told them the other day they're good, and the longer it takes them to figure that out the better off we'll all be, because when people start thinking they've arrived that's when they stop working and doing the things that got them there," Harbaugh said. "We'll keep pretending we have a long way to go, and we do. We don't have to pretend."

The Buccaneers, a 2½-point underdog, are attempting a difficult feat. They had to go down to the wire at home against winless Indianapolis on Monday night, resumed practice Wednesday and must fly west in a short week to face a team on the rise.

"Survive and advance. That's what we're after," coach Raheem Morris said. "The fact is you're 3-1. And you're very excited about it. Got a short week and we're going to San Francisco. Let's get to it."

This matchup could hinge on turnovers. The 49ers are plus-6 and have only two giveaways. Tampa Bay is even.

The Buccaneers are the better team, yet have a few things working against them this week. Just not enough things.

BUCCANEERS, 20-17