The San Francisco 49ers begin a three-game road trip this weekend, traveling to Glendale to face the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. The 49ers continue their search for win No. 1 of the new era, having lost their first games to the Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, and Los Angeles Rams.
The Seahawks and Rams losses were by a combined five points, and on both sides of the ball, we saw some positives on which to build moving forward. Following the Rams loss however, Ronnie Lott was quick to point out that there are no moral victories in football. It’s a black and white business and you need to win.
While wins are the most important thing in the big picture, we also know these 49ers are in the early stages of a rebuilding process. General manager John Lynch was asked about this during his bi-weekly KNBR interview on Friday. He talked about his pride in the team’s fight and willingness to answer the bell. However, he also thinks they need to find ways to execute better and more consistently. He acknowledged both aspects of the situation, saying, “I want a damn win,” but also recognizing that they have a process in place, and wins will come if they stick with their process.
“You know, I saw something last week, someone brought something to my attention, and it was Ronnie Lott. Ronnie said, you know listen, he’s not struggling at all. It’s very defined in his mind that there are no moral victories — you gotta win in this league. And we fully understand that.
“I am proud of our guys’ effort. I think you see a team that is fighting. I think now what we have to get to our team, and we go back — and Kyle does a great job of doing it — is showing them, here’s the difference between winning and losing. And so, in addition to the tremendous effort and fight, we’ve got to execute, guys. We gotta not beat ourselves. All of a sudden these turn into wins.
“And so we knew it was gonna be a process, we focus on the process, because we think that translates into wins, when we do that. We’re still missing that part of the equation, and I can be very frank with you: I want a damn win. Enough of this stuff. And I like the way our guys are fighting, I really am proud of them.
“But I think it’s been pointed out to them that it’s more than just fight. That’s all part of building something, and what I am proud of is that they’re answering the bell when we ask them to give complete effort. Now it’s just a matter of doing it every day, and focusing on technique and fundamentals. And when we put it all together, we’ll start winning some games.”
John Lynch spent the first 11 years of his NFL career in Tampa Bay, and the first four were part of a Bucs squad that was consistently bad. In his first three seasons, the Bucs finished in last place, resulting in the firing of head coach Sam Wyche. In Lynch’s fourth season, the Bucs hired Tony Dungy. The Bucs went 6-10 that first year, and there were some rough stretches. Lynch talked about the struggles and turning it around.
“I remember Coach Dungy, at times, I remember Herm Edwards saying after the first game he coached, Tony, who never gets upset said, “I mean, who’s coaching these guys?” We were so bad. Tony was patient, but his expectations and standards never changed. He kinda went through that process — when you start doing this, this, this, and this, these things will start turning into wins — and he demanded the effort. He never relented on that. And so it’s something I believe in, something Kyle believes in. We eventually flipped it there in Tampa — it took a lot of hard effort, and so I know that you can’t ever waste a day when you’re trying to turn something like this. That’s where I am proud, is that our guys aren’t wasting days, and if we can even do that more consistently, and focus on the execution, like I’ve said, we’ll start seeing some success.”
The Bucs went 6-10 that first year, but it is noteworthy that they opened the season with five straight losses, and eight losses in their first nine games. They won five of their final seven games to finish with the 6-10 mark.
Lynch said part of that was just a matter of getting comfortable with changes to the offensive and defensive philosophy under the Dungy coaching staff. He talked about the similarity to what the 49ers are dealing with now in their switch to the Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh offensive and defensive schemes. The 49ers are switching from a two-gap system to a one-gap system, which changes up responsibilities. Lynch talked about the need to break habits for older players, and instructing young players on a new system. On the offensive side of the ball, he talked about the need to show more discipline and not shoot themselves in the foot so much.
It is noteworthy that the 49ers could find themselves with more opportunities for wins in the second half of this schedule. They have a Week 11 bye, followed by a home game against the Seattle Seahawks. After that, they close out the schedule with road games against Chicago and Houston, home games against Tennessee and Jacksonville, and a road game against the Los Angeles Rams. None of those games are gimmes, but they are winnable games that could put the 49ers in position for a strong finish.