The Eastern time zone isn’t all that bad. Not for these 49ers.
As they travel to Washington, D.C., for their Week 9 matchup with the Redskins (3-4), the 49ers are one of three NFL teams to remain undefeated away from home. They’ve done it in style, too, recording spirited second-half comebacks in each of their three road contests.
Looking back, the week-long trip to Youngstown, Ohio between road victories in Cincinnati and Philadelphia may have been the turning point for this team.
“I think it was the point where we clicked,” Delanie Walker said.
Out of their home facilities for the first time, in close quarters with roommates, the 49ers (6-1) were pushed out of their comfort zone. And that’s just where coach Jim Harbaugh wants to be.
“We really don’t want to be comfortable with ourselves,” Harbaugh said. “We want to stay sharp, take no short cuts, don’t want to let our guard down.”
They haven’t lost since they embarked for Ohio, developing one the league’s top rushing attacks since.
The 49ers head into the nation’s capital with the league’s sixth-best rushing average (137.6 yards per game) and the sixth-best scoring offense (26.7 points per game). Defensively, the 49ers lead the league in those respective categories, limiting opponents to 73.4 rushing yards and 15.3 points per game.
Such success can only be possible with detailed preparation. Throughout the locker room, players were quick to praise Harbaugh and his coaching staff for their diligence in the classroom.
“It starts with the preparation,” Joe Staley said. “I think on the road you really have to be dialed into what you’re trying to do. You can’t let crowd noise affect you and I think we’ve been doing a good job of keeping that to a minimum.”
Walker also said the 49ers have gone to extra lengths to prepare for another game in the Eastern time zone, getting to team headquarters earlier so their bodies can adjust to the three-hour time difference better. Once they get to practice, the 49ers try to play at a game-like tempo so they can better handle fourth-quarter fatigue.
Harbaugh has stressed the importance of mental, physical and emotional endurance to his team this season. Such a mindset has allowed the 49ers to score 21 unanswered points to claim a 24-23 victory against the Eagles and earn the scintillating 25-19 win in Detroit.
“I think that’s the difference,” said Walker, who caught a late, fourth-down touchdown to help defeat the Lions in Week 6. “We want the game more.”
As the players have grown more comfortable with the preparation methods of their coaching staff, it appears the coaches feel the same way about their players.
“I have a lot more confidence now than we did the first time that we got together, even the first time we went on an East coast road trip,” Harbaugh said. “And that really comes from the way the players are going about their business and preparing, their training. So, yes there’s that, which is big.”
While starting defensive tackle Ray McDonald has been ruled doubtful for Sunday’s contest, the 49ers could be getting reinforcements in the secondary. Cornerback Tramaine Brock, who has missed the last three games with a hand injury, is listed as probable on the injury report. Fullback Moran Norris, who is questionable for Sunday, could also return for his first game action since suffering a fibula injury in Week 2.
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