Yet the 2006 season-ending upset over the Denver Broncos meant so much more the Niners: it revealed a team that believes in themselves. And believes in their coach's plan for the future.

Before this game was played, San Francisco's prospects in it were the opposite of good. To upset a powerful-yet-flawed Bronco team that would be out of the playoffs with a loss? Unthinkable.

Yet when the two teams hit the field, the 49ers looked like were the team that had playoffs on the line, playing with conviction and vim all the way to the Nedney's final issuance to win a game that they didn't need to win.

"You better believe it felt good taking them out," an eyeblack-sportin' Alex Smith said afterwards. "If we were going to be home for the playoffs we wanted them to be right with us."

Today Coach Nolan II dropped the gauntlet, saying that he expects playoffs next year. OK, excellent.

Whereas it would've been a silly notion for a blue chip free agent to want to sign with the Niners in last year's offseason, now San Francisco will be seen as a place where players would want to sign.

In the 2006 offseason, the 49ers got (the currently suspended) WR Antonio Bryant because no one wanted to deal with his hothead reputation despite his skills, and CB Walt "I'm Not That Fired Stanford Guy" Harris because he was considered old for a defensive back. Both scrap-heap signings worked out to in-game production, a credit to the 49ers' scouts.

Success breeds success in the NFL. It's difficult to start and easy to lose.