San Francisco 49ers Brass Believes Team Is A Playoff Threat Despite Being Under .500

San Francisco just got demolished by Kansas City and still managed to emerge more confident than a week ago.

“We have a lot of stuff to fix and you’re right, we don’t have a lot of room for error now, but you can see where the plan will come together,” a 49ers assistant coach said Sunday after the Chiefs thumped San Francisco 44-23 in Santa Clara.

“But I can honestly say that I’m more excited about what we can be than I was a week ago … you go back to 2020 when the Chiefs put one on Tampa Bay and then Tampa Bay got them, I can see us do that. I really can,” the assistant coach said.

What he was referring to was how Kansas City had decimated Tampa Bay in the regular season two years ago only to see the Buccaneers get revenge in the Super Bowl.

This is what a great player like Christian McCaffrey can do to the imagination.

Yes, somehow a team that just dropped to 3-4 as its supposedly stout defense got picked apart has people still dreaming about winning a title. This is the same team that opened the season with a loss at Chicago, butchered a game against Denver and then lost at Atlanta because of a slew of injuries. This is also a team with Jimmy Garoppolo still throwing passes up for grabs on occasion.

This team still has visions of hoisting a Lombardi Trophy in February? Seriously?

Yes, and if you squint really hard through those National Treasure glasses, it is possible to see what the coach is saying. In the two-dozen plays when McCaffrey was on the field, the 49ers offense had a different look to it. There was an explosiveness because the Chiefs defense was forced to account for him. McCaffrey had 10 touches that accounted for 62 yards. Not overwhelming, but there were visions of what 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan will eventually be able to do.

When McCaffrey went in motion, the Chiefs safeties had to pay attention. To this point of the season, the 49ers running backs had been a non-factor in the passing game.

Now, McCaffrey can help open the defense for tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel, two players who eat safeties for a living. There were times in this game when the 49ers hinted at explosive. There was a rhythm to what they were doing that hasn’t been there all season. It was far from enough, but it was better than what they have shown.

In the running game, McCaffrey has a quickness that fits perfectly with the blocking scheme and, when combined with Jeff Wilson, gives Shanahan the best combination of running backs he has had since Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in Atlanta. That was an explosive offensive season that ended in the historic Super Bowl loss to New England.

A loss that still gnaws at Shanahan and contributed to the deal he made this week for McCaffrey.

There’s more to this vision than simply McCaffrey. Over the final 10 games of the season, the 49ers have a bye, seven of 10 games at home (including five consecutive), and don’t leave the Pacific Time Zone the rest of the way.

Again, the four losses don’t leave much room for mistakes, counting on McCaffrey, Kittle, Samuel and Garoppolo to stay healthy is a stretch, and, finally, believing that Garoppolo will not screw up at a critical moment is a major assumption.

That said, believing that Philadelphia, the New York Giants, Dallas and Minnesota are simply going to run away with the NFC or that Seattle, the current leader in the NFC West, is a real threat is also a series of questionable assumptions.

The fact is that despite all the oddity of this season for the 49ers, including having to go back to Garoppolo after the injury to Trey Lance, this is an extremely talented team with a lot of motivated people.

McCaffrey wants to prove he’s still an elite player.

Garappolo wants to put himself in position for another big payday. Shanahan is still burning from the two Super Bowl losses and NFC Championship Game defeat he has suffered in the previous six years.

And that’s just a few of the 49ers who like to dream big, even in the aftermath of a big loss.

Written by
Jason Cole has covered or written about pro football since 1992. He is one of 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has served as a selector since 2013. Cole has worked for publications such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and started his career with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto. Cole’s five-year investigation of Reggie Bush and the University of Southern California resulted in Bush becoming the only player to ever relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC losing its 2004 national championship.