By Bruce Macgowan
Special to The Examiner
Are the 49ers for real? Are they going to make a strong run for the playoffs? Was the stunning win Monday night a sign of things to come?
Sunday’s game at Jacksonville over the lowly Jaguars won’t give us a definitive answer, but it should add a little more clarity to this 2021 season.
When teams win a big game on national TV against a powerful rival, there is a natural tendency to suffer a let down the following week, whether or not they want to admit it.
But star tight end George Kittle struck a hopeful note when asked about how the 49ers might duplicate the effort against the Rams.
“We need to bottle it up. We’re going to to try to build on the energy and take it to another level…,” said Kittle. “If we can do that, we can be a scary team.”
Against the Jaguars, the defense will have to keep close watch on former Cal star, the veteran Marvin Jones Jr., who has pulled in 41 passes while scoring three times. The Jaguars didn’t have to depend on Jones much in the surprising 9-6 win over a heavily favored Buffalo team a couple of week ago, but highly touted Jacksonville rookie Trevor Lawrence is certain to look his way more than a few times on Sunday.
Lawrence, who led Clemson to a national championship as a freshman, has been humbled by his experience thus far in the NFL. He made some noise in his debut with three TD strikes on opening day against Houston, but he’s only passed for five more in the last eight games. Lawrence has also been hampered by not coming up with the yards needed on third down plays and his receivers have dropped plenty of passes. Lawrence is a rangy young man who stands 6 feet, 6 inches but he’ll be challenged Sunday facing a 49er defense that shut down the Rams.
For the Jaguars to pull off an upset, they will need another stout defensive effort as they did against Buffalo and then again last week against the Colts, where they gave up 23 points and lost by only six.
But the Jaguars, like the Niners, know about frustrating losing streaks. Jacksonville has not won a game against the NFC opponent in over three years.
The 2021 season has also been a learning experience for first year head coach Urban Meyer. Meyer won three National titles as a college coach with Florida and Ohio State, but it’s been a much different story with the Jaguars who are one of the league’s lesser lights. There has been recent talk about whether Meyer would even survive this season.
Critics have pointed out that he has mismanaged the Jaguars locker room, made some bad choices involving who should be playing and has been an occasional distraction off the field with some antics that were not at all popular. Yet Meyer remains surprisingly optimistic about the season.
“I will fight for that locker room. I believe in those guys… there’s a lot of positivity. We’re not that far off. I refuse to believe we’re far off,” he said recently.
But those brave words may ring hollow if the Jags fall victim as expected to a 49ers team that is on the verge of turning its season around.
Bruce Macgowan is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.