After going eight straight seasons without a playoff berth or a winning record, the San Francisco 49ers are certainly enjoying their resurgent 2011 campaign.
The mood seems to be much more somber in Washington, where the Redskins find themselves in the midst of what has become an annual three-game skid.
The 49ers look to win six straight for the first time in nearly 14 years Sunday when they visit the Redskins.
San Francisco (6-1) continued its best start since 1998 with a 20-10 win over Cleveland last Sunday. Frank Gore rushed for 134 yards and a score, leading the 49ers to their fifth straight win.
The team hasn't won six in a row since a single-season franchise-best 11-game run with Steve Young as quarterback in 1997.
"If you're in that locker room after the game, you don't have to say anything. You can just feel it," said Alex Smith, who threw for 177 yards and a touchdown against the Browns. "The guys are pumped. It's fun. It's fun to be on a roll. Five in a row now. This is why you play."
Gore, who ranks fourth in the NFL with 96.4 rushing yards per game, has recorded a career-best four consecutive 100-yard efforts. He's compiled at least 125 yards and found the end zone in each.
"I think our fans, they're happy, and I'm happy for them," said Gore, who passed Roger Craig for second place on the 49ers' all-time rushing list last weekend. "There's been some rough years, they've had some rough years and they've always been there and now we're doing something really great for them."
In addition to Gore's consistent play, the 49ers have used an outstanding defense to help build a four-game lead in the NFC West. San Francisco has surrendered a league-low 15.3 points per game and is tied for third with 16 takeaways.
The 49ers' top-ranked run defense hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in the last 29 games - the longest active streak in the NFL.
After allowing 296.5 yards per game during their 3-1 start, the Redskins (3-4) have surrendering an average of 406.3 while dropping three straight. Washington has a losing streak of at least three games in 12 consecutive seasons - the longest such run in the NFL.
"The more adversity we face and the harder things get, it makes it tougher to stick together," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "This is when you need your leadership and your coaching and things like that to really step in, so we'll see."
Hightower's torn left ACL is one of many injuries to strike the Redskins. Tight end Chris Cooley (finger, knee) and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger (torn right ACL) are both out for the season while receiver Santana Moss (fractured left hand) remains out.
Left tackle Trent Williams' status is uncertain due to a sprained right ankle. Tight end Fred Davis, who leads the team with 36 receptions for 517 yards, was wearing a walking boot on his left foot Monday but is likely to be available.
Despite gaining just 31 yards on 20 carries over the last three games, Torain figures to again carry the load out of the backfield. Former Dallas running back Tashard Choice, whom the Redskins claimed off waivers last Saturday, has already been ruled out for this game.
With their running game sputtering, the Redskins would love to see John Beck come out with a better performance. Beck threw for 208 yards with two interceptions and was sacked a franchise-record 10 times by the Bills.
"John, like most young quarterbacks, is going to go through some growing pains," coach Mike Shanahan said. "There's going to be some good games; there's going to be some games that are a little off."
Beck should be wary of 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers, who leads the team with three interceptions. Rogers spent the first six years of his NFL career in Washington before leaving as a free agent over the summer.
He's one of many players producing for Jim Harbaugh. While the first-year coach surely doesn't want the 49ers overlooking the struggling Redskins, he doesn't seem shy about discussing the future, which may include the possibility of clinching a division title before the end of November.
"Generally, it's just a philosophy of life, of how we approach things as a team," Harbaugh said. "There's the one philosophy that is yesterday's a mystery, tomorrow's a mystery, we live for the present, it's a gift, that kind of thing. That's not us. We reject that.
"We live for the future. To make tomorrow better. To make this Sunday better. Everything we can do today so that we can have a better future."
San Francisco is 17-10-1 all-time versus Washington, including postseason. The teams haven't met since the 49ers prevailed 27-24 on Dec. 28, 2008.