By Mychael Urban
Special to The Examiner
The consecutive home losses prior to this Sunday’s NFC West test at unbeaten Arizona likely has some 49ers fans wondering.
Was the giddy optimism that came with opening the season 2-0 on the road warranted? Should caution have been exercised instead?
Fair questions, and the answer to both is “yes.”
So, as Trey Lance crams for what’s expected to be his first career start… as Jimmy G feverishly works to right his wonky wheel… and as Kyle Shanahan devises new ways to get Deebo Samuel 15-20 touches a game, let’s take a look at the Niners’ 2-2 record for what it actually means, not how it makes you feel.
The victories might lose some shine, but the losses won’t look nearly as deflating. The outlook for Sunday and the 12 games to follow? Decidedly more fun. And away we go.
It’s one thing for the 49ers to have opened the season in Detroit – with a roster already under attack from the NFL’s injury gods – and beaten quarterback Jared Goff, a chronic underachiever.
But road wins in the face of adversity should never be downplayed. The Niners, who lost top tailback Raheem Mostert and starting defensive back Jason Verrett (among others) in the Lions game, got another such win in Philadelphia the following Sunday.
That 2-0 record the Niners brought home from Philly meant one thing above all else: They’d already formed a cohesion level few professional teams even approach. In part a product of staying out east between games, their enviable bond is clear to spot on gameday. These guys believe in each other, and trust one another.
That’ll go a long way as it relates to overcoming the injuries that have besieged the team. Proof of that could be found on the margins of the disappointing homestand.
Dre Greenlaw, Davontae Harris, Elijah Mitchell, Justin Skule, Jamycal Hasty, Emmanuel Moseley, K’Waun Williams, Josh Norman, Trent Williams, Robbie Gould, George Kittle, Jimmy G. These are not bit players, and they’ve all appeared on the list of injured Niners less than a quarter of the way into the season.
That might not feel like anything more than a tired excuse for losing. We’re told virtually every day in every sport: Injuries are part of the game.
Okay. But this many? Again?
No, this is uncommon. So is Aaron Rodgers playing poorly two weeks in a row. Unfortunately for the 49ers, Rodgers had a rough game prior to leading the Packers into Levi’s Stadium.
Garoppolo landed one of the better punches of his career when he led a touchdown drive to give the Niners, who’d trailed 17-0 earlier, a lead with 37 seconds to play.
Rodgers eats 37 seconds like I eat fries. Packers win. Heartbreaking, perhaps. Most last-second losses are. Soul-crushing? No.
Most diehards I know say last week’s loss to the Seahawks was far worse than falling to Green Bay. That starts a conversation in which I see each stage of the mourning process play out in less than 45 seconds.
Ultimately, the optimism starts to surface again. Gould’s absence cost the 49ers at least four points against the Seahawks. Jimmy G sat the whole second half, during which Shanahan’s previous comments regarding Lance’s readiness to be The Man – he’s not there yet – were finally taken as they were meant.
And still the Niners were right there all day, fighting for each other and providing some hope heading into Arizona, where Kyler Murray’s Cardinals currently lord over the division.
It would be the best of San Francisco’s road wins should Lance dance out of the desert on top.
If they lose? Only if they’re inept across the board will it mean much.
If they win? Check the postgame injury report, Niners fans.
A shutout there would be a capital “W” no matter what the scoreboard has to say.
Mychael Urban has been covering Bay Area sports for more than 30 years.