The Gauntlet

After three straight games against squirty QBs, the 49er front seven is probably relieved to face a normal pocket passer – even if it is the so-called top QB in the game. Aaron Rodgers can run a bit, but it isn’t playing dodge ball in the backfield.

PFT  says the 49ers’ three game stretch against teams that all have won 80% or more of their games is the toughest schedule any team has ever faced in the regular season. It’s precisely the sort of schedule any team faces, more or less, in the playoffs though. So, this will be a good look at how the team might fare if it does indeed make the postseason.

Many consider Rodgers the best QB in the league, even though his career has occurred at the same time as Tom Brady‘s, whom many consider the best QB of all time. Somebody seems to be wrong here. It appears these opinion pushers are spitting pixels from a southern orifice not generally known for eloquence except to the crude denizens who find any emanance from these anatomical regions to be extraordinarily humorous.

Be that as it may, Rodgers hasn’t taken the Packers to even a Conference Title game since 2010, the year they won the SB. Every year, the Packers are one of the SB favorites and every year they peter out way short of expectations.

The Packers are a lot like the Andy Reid teams – always good on offense, not so much on defense. That might not matter much if the Niners don’t see some of their injured players back in action Sunday night. Especially TE George Kittle and WRs Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders. They won’t have much pop without those guys.

Despite their number one pass defense ranking, there are skeptics in the league about the Niners’ defense. It hasn’t faced enough elite QBs, so they say. They’ll get a chance in the next three games to quiet those critics, or validate them. And as that challenge goes, so probably goes the team’s chances of winning one or more of these coming games.

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49ers 36, Cardinals 26

The 49ers squeezed out a win Sunday afternoon against the Cardinals, and guaranteed their first winning season since 2013.

Early in the game, however, it looked more like they would be the first team in NFL history to win its first eight games and then lose its last eight. It was life support time.

I was already composing their obituary six minutes into the second quarter, trailing 16-0 and getting thrashed, when suddenly Richie James took a simple little screen pass and roared 57 yards down to the Arizona eighteen yard line. A few plays later, Jimmy Garoppolo hit Ross Dwelley for a 4 yard TD.

From that point on, the  Niners outscored the Cardinals 30-10. Which is more what you’d expect from them. And it would have been more if Garoppolo hadn’t mixed in two red zone interceptions that killed two scoring opportunities and provoked two  cardiac arrests.

That’s three straight nail-biters and three straight games that the Niner running attack has been squashed. Opposing teams have evidently decided to force Garoppolo to beat them. He’s two for three and a missed FG from three for three. Sunday, he racked up 424 yards passing.

Deebo Samuel had another big game, catching 8 passes for 134 yards. That’s two straight games he’s been over a hundred yards in receiving. The Niners finally seem to have a bona fide number one WR.

He’s gotten his chance because Kyle Shanahan finally quit force feeding Dante Pettis, trying to get him to live up to his second round draft status. Yesterday, Pettis stood on the sideline the entire game and probably would have been inactive if there was any room on that list. With six injured starters plus third string QB CJ Beathard, there was no room for Pettis. He’ll get one last chance next year in Training Camp, but for now it looks like he’s done for the year.

The next three games are going to be tough. A litmus test on the season. At home against Green Bay, then road games in Baltimore and New Orleans. They probably need to win at least one of these games if anybody is going to take them seriously this year.

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Seahawks 27, 49ers 24

Off the top: Shit.

The 49ers, perhaps rashly, tried to beat Seattle with their B team Monday night, but came up a tad short when the B team kicker missed the game winner in OT.

Playing without their top two offensive players, George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders, it became the Deebo Samuels coming out party. The rookie WR had eight catches for 118 yards. Kendrick Bourne played well except when he didn’t. Completely missing in action were Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin, who didn’t show up on the stat sheet for anything.

Seattle HC Pete Carroll whined after the game, like he usually does, that their offense didn’t look the same in OT without their top WR Tyler Lockett. What he didn’t say was the 49ers played the whole game without their top TWO receivers and the Seahawks were just plain lucky they didn’t lose the game anyway. Carroll could have said God was on his side, but that would have infringed on Russell Wilson‘s God patent, so he wisely refrained.

It was not a good night for Jimmy Garoppolo, who lost two fumbles and threw an interception. He tossed two ints on their final OT drive, but Seattle dropped them both.

The Niners dominated early and had a 10-0 lead when Sanders went out. After that, the offense managed only six points the rest of the game. With Sanders out, Seattle was free to sell out on their pass rush, not having much to fear from the 49ers’ remaining receivers.

The two teams play each other again, in Seattle on the final weekend of the season. That game might be for all the marbles in the NFC West. Or, by then, it could mean nothing at all. What’s clear is the two teams are going to be slugging it out for the foreseeable future, much like they did from 2011 to 2014.

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Prove It or Lose It

Hey, look! We’ve got ourselves a MUST WIN GAME!

Hahaha. We haven’t had one of these in quite awhile.

But, let’s face it, if the 49ers can’t beat the Seahawks here at home, they’re not likely to in Seattle. And that would wipe out the two game lead the team has on them now, plus the head-to-head tiebreaker. Good-bye division lead.

Nick Mullens beat Seattle last year to break an ignominious run of futility against them. And that 49er team was nowhere near as good as this year’s team. But, that was last year. It don’t mean squat now.

The team should see the return of Joe Staley and Kyle Juszczyk, which should help the running game. RT Mike McGlinchey could return, also, but his replacement Daniel Brunskill has been very good, so this isn’t a pressing need.

The Niners have a better defense, by far, than Seattle, but this game, like all Seahawks’ games, will come down to Russell Wilson water bugging around in the backfield waiting for one of his WRs to get open 30 yards downfield. If that doesn’t happen, he’ll scramble for ten yards and a new set of downs.

That’s their fourth quarter offense. The first three quarters, they’ll run the ball a lot. The 49ers haven’t been that great stopping the run lately, and the loss of ILB Kwon Alexander won’t help.

So much for the obvious. What we need here is a win, any way we can get it. The team would be 3-0 in the division, with a three game lead over the Seahawks and the Rams. Case closed.

Still, what we want is a little bit more extravagant. Is  it too much to ask for a sweet Carolina-type beat down? The kind that would send these bums back to Seattle with their tails dragging and their spirits squashed. The kind that would have Pete Carroll thinking about hanging up his coaching cleats, tossing out his gum wads, and packing it in.

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Rocky Road Ahead

Half the 49er season is already over. Sigh. If only the offseason moved this quickly.

At this time of the year, we’re normally finishing the autopsy and preparing a eulogy, so this is uncharted territory. A perfect half season. Zounds!

Unless the team completely falls apart in the second half, we’ll even get to extend the season into January. Three more wins (Cardinals, Falcons, Rams) gets the Niners to eleven wins – enough for a playoff ticket. But they might have to beat Seattle at least once to win the division.

It’s possible they’ll lose three in a row (Packers, Ravens, Saints) to put a big dent in their Super Bowl aspirations. But the fact that “Super Bowl” and “49ers” are mentioned in the same sentence at this time of year, and not in a sarcastic or joking manner, is miracle enough to savor, however briefly, before heading down the home stretch.

It’s doubtful anybody thinks the Niners will stay unbeaten. The 1972 Dolphins’ old timers were worried about the Patriots, but not so much the 49ers. In fact, how the team stacks up against the league’s traditional powers, like the threesome mentioned above, is the biggest curiosity about the season’s second half.

I’d say they need to beat at least one of the three to attain any gravitas. Beating two, would vault them into serious SB conversations. And beating all three would have all us fans slathering incoherent blabberings everywhere we went.

If nothing else, this season has mostly vindicated Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. In year three of their rebuilding effort, they are drawing comparisons to Bill Walsh, not Norv Turner. That’s a giant leap forward for the franchise. They’ll need some SB wins to join the elites of the NFL, but at least they’ve put the Niners back into the mix near the top of the league.

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2019 Schedule
9-8: W 49ers 31, Buccaneers 17
9-15: W 49ers 41,Bengals 17
9-22: W 49ers 24, Steelers 20
9-29: BYE

10-7: W 49ers 31, Browns 3
10-13: W 49ers 20, Rams 7
10-20: W 49ers 9, Washington 0
10-27: W 49ers 51, Panthers 13
10-31: W 49ers 28, Cardinals 25

11-11: L Seahawks 27, 49ers 24
11-17: W 49ers 36, Cardinals 26
11-24: vs. Green Bay Packers, 1:25pm

12-1: @ Baltimore Ravens, 10am
12-8: @ New Orleans Saints, 10am
12-15: vs. Atlanta Falcons, 1:25pm
12-21 or 12-22: vs. Los Angeles Rams
12-29: @ Seattle Seahawks, 1:25pm

2019 Draft Class
1. DE Nick Bosa, Ohio State
2. WR Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
3. WR Jalen Hurd, Baylor
4. P Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah
5. LB Dre Greenlaw, Arkansas
6. TE Kaden Smith, Stanford
6. OT Justin Skule, Vanderbilt
6. DB Tim Harris, Virginia
2019 Prognostications
Bakkentom: 10-6
Bullit: 10-6
Grumpy: 9-7
Skeebers: 8-8
Mr Fletch: 7-9
NJ49er: 7-9
Winder: 7-9