Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Moral victories will not be good enough for the 49ers in their push for an NFC West title.
This performance, though in defeat, was good enough for the 49ers to use as a springboard.
Their defense rediscovered its dominance up front to a degree the Colts never could have anticipated, holding Peyton Manning without a touchdown pass for the first time in 10 games. They sacked Manning three times in three quarters, more than the Colts' previous opponents had managed all season. And the offense, though hardly consistent, occasionally fared better than expected -- particularly after a sprained knee knocked left tackle Joe Staley from the game on the 49ers' first play.
Losing Staley for any significant period of time would complicate the 49ers' efforts to keep pressure on Arizona in the division. Barry Sims appeared to fill in admirably Sunday, but his limitations might prove costly over an extended period. Staley is probably the best offensive lineman in the NFC West. The 49ers need him.
Quarterback Alex Smith again showed he can run the 2-minute offense effectively at times. That style doesn't fit the identity San Francisco set out to establish this season, but with Smith and rookie receiver Michael Crabtree in the lineup, the 49ers will need to continually reassess their approach.
The 49ers play home games against the Titans, Bears and Jaguars over the next four weeks. They played Sunday like a team that could win those games. And if that happens, the 49ers could take a 6-5 record into a two-week stretch against the Seahawks (road) and Cardinals (home).