SANTA CLARA — The lead up to the 49ers-New York Giants game begged some interesting philosophical questions. Like, is it better to be a fan of a team that is in the early stages of a rebuild or one that has a talented roster that has given up on its coach?
On Sunday, the answer from Levi’s Stadium was resounding.
The Giants were an embarrassment from the opening kickoff, which went out of bounds — of course. They couldn’t stop CJ Beathard, who looked like a professional quarterback for the first time in his career. They couldn’t stop the 49ers run game, which totaled a season-high 186 yards. They couldn’t move the ball, and they certainly couldn’t win.
And while the whispers about Giants coach Ben McAdoo losing his job grow into shouts, Kyle Shanahan earned his first victory as an NFL head coach — 31-21.
“I got that monkey off my back,” Shanahan said. “Now I have to get my second one or that will eventually be a monkey too. That was just one win, but it definitely felt good and we worked hard for it.”
Joe Staley, Elvis Dumervil and Kyle Juszczyk addressed the team a day before the game. They wanted to let their teammates know that there was still life left in the season. That if they keep working and executing Shanahan’s vision, they’ll earn their first victory sooner than later.
After the win, there was a positive vibe in the locker room for the first time in 2017. Shanahan didn’t have to apologize to Jed York this week. And that was reason for celebration alone.
Now imagine how good it’ll feel when they beat an opponent that actually cared about the result.
The kids are alright
General manager John Lynch made it a priority to overhaul the 49ers roster before the season, making the team one of the youngest in the NFL. Those players were essential to the Niners avoiding the fate of the 2008 Detroit Lions.
“We’ve got a lot of talent as rookies, it’s crazy,” linebacker Reuben Foster said. “… We talk on a daily basis, and all we want is nothing but greatness.”
Beathard threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns. He connected on the longest play of the season by hitting Marquise Goodwin in stride for an 83-yard strike. The third-round pick hurt his thumb after rushing for another score toward the end of the game. Coaches told the team to prepare for Jimmy Garoppolo to come in as a result. Beathard wasn’t going to stand for that. He wanted to be the one who took snaps in victory formation.
It was another example of Beathard’s toughness, which has become a thing of legend after the beating he’s taken. He may never be a starter in the league, but he’ll have no problem getting contracts as a backup as long as he wants them.
Matt Breida, an undrafted free agent, busted a 28-yard touchdown to put the Giants away.
Foster had a game-high 10 tackles — one for loss — and, most importantly, finished another game healthy.
Kendrick Bourne made the most of the opportunity afforded by Pierre Garcon’s season-ending injury by catching three passes for 42 yards. All of them came on third down to extend drives.
Adrian Colbert, a seventh-round pick out of University of Miami, flashed speed and instincts as the newest free safety. He had some key pass breakups.
Ahkello Witherspoon continued to show growth at cornerback, working well with Colbert.
Faithful, remember these names.
It’s a vibe
Niners fans shouldn’t reserve their flights for Super Bowl LIII just yet. Beating the Giants at home represents incremental progress at the absolute best.
But, the amount of damage Shanahan and Lynch’s reputation would’ve taken if they had lost would’ve been incalculable.
“When you lose nine in a row, you learn to savor the moments and enjoy these,” Shanahan said as his hair glistened from the Gatorade bath he received as time ran out.
“It was tough work for us to get our first win and we got it. I think the guys knew how much it meant to me and I knew how much it meant to them.”
The 49ers have two more winnable games on their schedule: At Chicago and at Houston. Even if they win out, they’ll have good enough draft position to get someone who can impact the franchise.
Lynch’s team of experts (including Adam Peters and Martin Mayhew) deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to evaluating talent. Getting a few more wins as a regime is more valuable than draft position at this point.
Along those lines, Shanahan said the team doesn’t have a plan to get Garoppolo under center — despite what a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter had said earlier in the day.
“There’s no way anything you guys hear reported could be accurate because I just told you guys our plan, which is we’re going to evaluate when it gets to that time,” he said.
Fixing the kinks
After taking 16 hits against the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers offensive line kept Beathard clean. He wasn’t sacked, and he was hit twice.
Having Staley back from injury ahead of schedule helped a lot, according to Shanahan. But, showing growth from one week to the next should be celebrated more than anything else.
Another notable 49ers correction was on third down, which they converted 8-of-12. It was their best mark since 2013.
Additionally, they balanced run and pass plays for the first time all year.
It’s not a coincidence this led to a victory. Now it’s time to take that growth and multiply it over time.
Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.