San Francsico 49ers see signs of second life at 6-4

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As an injured Patrick Willis tried to weave his way out of the 49ers' locker room Sunday, he was stopped by Joe Staley, the team's massive left tackle who just happened to take issue with some of Willis' wardrobe choices for the evening.

"Dude, what is this?" he said to Willis, plucking the purple fedora off his head.

Willis laughed, and Staley popped it on his sweaty head. He began dancing around, elbows flailing, singing Pharrell Williams' "Happy." The rest of the offensive line joined in -- and didn't sound half bad.

Across the way, Aldon Smith was getting prepared to do an interview. Over his first 54 snaps of the season, he pressured Eli Manning six times and forced an interception. Many of his teammates, especially in the secondary, said that their five interceptions would not have been possible without him punishing the right side of the Giants' offensive line. At one point, Smith was triple-teamed.

Further down, cornerback Chris Culliver talked about how, after one of those interceptions, he took the ball and walked it to the sideline, where he delivered it personally to Jim Harbaugh, quite possibly the most embattled coach in professional football right now.

"I loved it," Harbaugh said. "That was great. That has happened a few times in my career in college and pro, but that was great. I was just happy for him, and a tremendous play by him. I was touched."

Does this sound like a team in turmoil?

It seems there will always be * something * happening in San Francisco as long as Harbaugh is on the sidelines. The 49ers did not escape the game without issue, as one of their own outside linebackers, Ahmad Brooks, benched himself. According to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, Brooks would have had to share his snaps more than he anticipated.

The way that Harbaugh presses and prods and ignores and confronts and yells and jokes, there will never be a house that is completely unified. Someone will be rubbed the wrong way. Someone will not agree with Harbaugh's reasoning.

But after a 16-10 win against a desperate but dysfunctional Giants team at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, some players appear ready to put the past behind them. At 6-4, the team's playoff chances are not unreasonable.

"We're not out of it, we're going to keep playing," Culliver told Around The NFL. "I mean, we have a lot of games to go. We got six games. We're going to keep playing, keep competing every game."

San Francisco has two games against the Seahawks and another against the Cardinals among its final six contests. Mixed in are laughers against the Redskins and Raiders, which should help Harbaugh's team catch its breath.

We say Harbaugh's team hesitantly, of course, because one never knows how where the 49ers locker room will veer next. Maybe that's the way he likes it.

What we do know is that after Culliver handed Harbaugh the ball, he never intended on keeping it. After the game, the coach returned it to his player and thanked him.

He knew it was much more than a gift.

"I don't know about any talk about us not liking Harbaugh," Culliver said after the game. "He's our coach. On the outside looking in, I don't know what they're seeing. But he's our coach. I enjoy him, period."

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Sunday game from an action-packed Week 11. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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