Niners’ season: Just when you think it’s done, it’s not

San Francisco remains a playoff candidate going into Titans game

By Mychael Urban

Special to the Examiner

It didn’t quite register as such in real time but as the day wore on and the Falcons were worn out, the opening sequence Sunday sure felt like a microcosm of the 49ers’ season thus far.

Just when you think it’s about to get ugly, the Niners do something beautiful.

With Levi’s Stadium still riding that countdown-to-kickoff high, JaMycal Hasty did something that’s pretty uncommon, and wholly embarrassing, for a player to do at home: He silenced the crowd.

Opening play. Fumble. Falcons recover. Two plays later, they’re licking their chops. First-and-goal.

Yeah, it got quiet and quick. Real quiet. Real quick.

You can’t really blame the fans. They’ve been conditioned over the past decade or so to — as a defense mechanism against heartbreak — expect the worst. And getting that result more often than not.

The Niners’ response to Hasty’s nightmare? Time for reconditioning.

Remember how downcast The Faithful were when the Niners’ 2-0 start was followed by four straight losses? They bounced back with a great win in Chicago.

Then came more gloom and doom after a loss to the Cardinals. They responded by crushing the overhyped Rams to open a three-game winning streak.

A horrible loss to the Seahawks? Followed by these past two wins, which have them fairly and firmly in the NFC playoff picture.

This team knows how to respond. It believes it can, and it does. The first few minutes Sunday underscored as much.

Simply holding the Falcons out of the end zone in that situation would have been considered something of a win under the circumstances. Down 3-0 early? Not ideal, of course, but not anything near the buzzkill that being down 7-0 would’ve been.

By the time the Falcons made the fairly ballsy call to go for it on fourth down, the silence that came with Hasty’s wanna-get-away moment had been replaced with a steadily rising and throaty tide that reached its crescendo as the Niners’ D turned back Matt Ryan and Co., sending the Falcons trudging to the sidelines while the Niners floated to theirs.

It’d be easy to say the game was won on that sequence alone, that it set an unmistakable tone for a day of sheer dominance.

To say that wouldn’t be wrong, really. The Falcons kept testing the Niners’ D by going for it on fourth downs galore, and the 49ers aced every test. Let’s give the offense a little credit here, too. At its best, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense is a collective, inclusive, creative and versatile attack, seemingly impervious to the ungodly number of key injuries it’s suffered.

And it was all that and then some Sunday. Deebo Samuel did Deebo Samuel stuff. Jimmy G flashed his degree from the Alex Smith School of Game Management. George Kittle provided security and comedy. And everyone else just did their jobs. Did ‘em well. Again.

That’s five wins over the past six games. Six wins over the past eight.

And suddenly, Thursday’s Niners-Titans tilt is a big damn deal. The Titans are reeling a tad after dropping a heartbreaker to the Steelers on Sunday, when a win would’ve had Tennessee sitting pretty in the AFC playoff picture. The Titans have been a turnover machine for about a month now. But they’ve got a nasty defense, and the Niners are in no position to treat any upcoming opponent lightly.

And as Kittle said, “Pretty much every game we play from here on out is going to be like a playoff game.”

That’s all a fan base can ask of its team: Play games that matter late in the season.

The Niners will be doing just that, and having developed a knack for answering potential disaster with a smile and a Three Stooges poke to the eyes, they seem poised to give The Faithful one hell of a fun winter.

Mychael Urban, who has been covering Bay Area sports for more than 30 years, is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.

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