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The Carolina Panthers will tell us where the 49ers stand

The Monday Night football thumping was great, but let’s see how the San Francisco 49ers do against a more superior opponent.

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Like you, I found Monday Night’s thumping on the Los Angeles Rams nothing short of awesome. Given how boring that game was, the San Francisco 49ers dominated the Rams on all fronts. A shutout in the NFL is impressive no matter who it is, and regardless of how this season goes, this is a good first step for the new Chip Kelly offense.

But now it’s time to take it easy. The 49ers did this same sort of dominant performance on Monday Night Football’s double header last year.

Then they went 4-11 the rest of the season.

There are a few differences though. The 49ers had only one turnover (to be fair, several throws from Blaine Gabbert could have been picked off), and the return game, along with special teams in general was solid. How we got Jeremy Kerley is beyond me.

I watched the 2015 MNF game against the Minnesota Vikings yesterday and saw a lot of sloppy football on both sides. Penalties, muffed punts, bad plays, the 49ers just somehow played better than an ill prepared Minnesota squad. It quite possibly was the worse football game I ever had to witness now that I watch it in hindsight. The biggest difference: the Vikings were in it until a Tramaine Brock interception in the 4th quarter. The Rams were out of it by the end of the first half.

I could go on and on on the differences between that game and the drubbing we watched last night (divisional game, ten yards of penalties vs. 57 yards, etc), but really, the results were obvious: 49ers were running around in sync, the defense was swarming ball carriers, they played smart football and at the end of the night there was something different—and good growing with this team. On defense anyways. Offense will need a bit of a tune-up, but three rushing touchdowns against the supposed ‘best front-7 in football’ is promising.

That’s why Carolina will really give us a good indicator of where we are. Even in a loss, we can see if this team has figured out the nuances that drug them down last year. It’s not going to be 28-0 out there. Saying the 49ers can get a lead may be a stretch, but it’s definitely possible. What we need to hope for is to continue seeing this team playing clean, smart football. The 49ers went into Pittsburgh last year and did what the Rams did last night: Refused to adjust, continued running the ball when it clearly wasn’t working, all en-route to a 43-24 loss that signaled Jim Tomsula may not know what he’s doing.

I’ve said several times last year it wasn’t that the 49ers were losing, it was how they were losing. Terrible schemes, undisciplined play, and offensive line stubbornness indicating something far worse than the talent on the field. We don’t know if that talent is there yet, it may be, it may not be. But before we crown ourselves the champions of the NFC, let’s look a bit at how Carolina plays out. They are the defending NFC champions after-all. Win there, and let the optimism begin. Lose there and look to see how they lost—and if it’s the same as the Rams game, let the long-term optimism begin. Look for coverages, look for adjustments. If the 49ers do lose that game, I’ll be more than happy to know that they are still taking a step in the right direction.

If you see another middle linebacker covering Kelvin Benjamin or Ted Ginn Jr. Then we know they haven’t fixed anything.