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Bay Area football teams enjoying turnaround

By Josh Dubow

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 21 2011 1:36 p.m. MDT

While many of the moves that have keyed this turnaround have happened over the last few years, two of the most important came in January when San Francisco hired Harbaugh and Oakland hired Jackson.

"They both have an old-school mentality," Mariucci said. "They haven't gone to the finesse trend that we're seeing in football, not only in pro football but college and high school with the spread offenses and this fancy, finesse game. I'm enjoying the fact that they still want to play physical football and pound it at you."

The 49ers have done it with perhaps the league's best run defense led by linebackers Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, a running game led by Frank Gore and surprisingly efficient quarterback play from former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, whose career has been revived.

The Raiders have done it with big plays on the ground from Darren McFadden, speedy wide receivers capable of home-run plays and a defense that has been more aggressive than ever the past two weeks.

"I'm happy for the Raiders to have that going," Niners defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said. "It's a great buzz. Now everybody's coming out to the games. It's just a plus for the Bay Area to see both teams winning. Now you're going to see more fans into it."

While there is plenty of mutual respect between the two franchises, for some the recent renewal has sparked a rivalry that didn't have much to get either side fired up for most of the past decade.

The teams played twice the last eight years and took a combined 3-14 record into those two early season meetings won by San Francisco in 2006 and '10.

Now being the best in the Bay Area will actually mean something.

"It could be because I'm a hater, but I never want the Niners to do good. Ever," Raiders safety Mike Mitchell said. "I want us to be the only team that's good so there's no doubt who the top football team is around here. You see those guys out and they're doing good, too. You want to be the top dog. You want to have bragging rights. When you're both going 6-10, what's there to brag about?"

AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in Santa Clara, Calif., contributed to this report.

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