The San Francisco 49ers beat the Denver Broncos last week and it was a quality win—the Broncos are not the Raiders. This week, they managed to make the Seattle Seahawks submit via T.K.O. with an overtime field goal to win 26-23.
The 49ers were sitting at No. 1 for draft positioning and beating the Seahawks all but guarantees they won’t pick first, or win the Nick Bosa sweepstakes. Worry not, the win—that win—is far more valuable than for draft positioning.
The Seattle Seahawks were fighting for a playoff berth coming into Sunday and while their chances aren’t ruined by the 49ers, they are delayed. The Seahawks also had an impressive win on Monday Night Football the week prior, dominating the Minnesota Vikings. The 49ers, in essence, put a damper into the Seahawks plans and improved morale from it. A win like this for a young team like that is far more valuable than a draft pick.
Here’s a nice history lesson to compare it to:
In 1979, Bill Walsh was in the middle of his first season. The 49ers would wind up going 2-14, but it’s their second win that matters. Hitting a six-game losing streak, the 49ers went up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a home game at Candlestick Park. Being playoff bound, the Buccaneers could clinch a playoff berth by beating the laughing-stock 49ers.
That didn’t happen. Instead, the 49ers would beat the Buccaneers 23-7 and delayed Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes by another week. The Buccaneers would limp into the playoffs with their last win of the season and make it to the NFC Championship.
Minutes after the win, fans stormed the field and tore down the goal post. The team joined in the obnoxiousness, carrying Walsh off in celebration of their second win of of the season. In the 1981 49ers episode of NFL Network’s America’s Game, former 49ers guard Randy Cross had the best definition for a 2-14 team acting as ridiculous as the 49ers did:
“And there’s enough noise in that stadium at that point, and there’s enough cheering that you really can’t hear the rest of the country laughing at you. When you’re tearing down goal posts with your second win of the year and carrying your coach off the field.”
The 49ers would endure a 6-10 season the following year before winning their first Super Bowl in 1981. There are some differences. For instance, this is the second season for the John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan regime as opposed to the first year of Walsh’s, but the intentions are all the same and pure. The late Dwight Clark had a great perspective of why everyone went nuts in the same America’s Game episode:
“In my opinion, it was celebrating what was getting ready to happen, what was around the corner. We had a lot of success that year, we just didn’t win a lot of games. We all knew it was just a matter of time before Bill got us where we wanted to go.”
After last week’s win over Denver, Jed York offered a quotation from Bill Walsh to the locker room that echoed, saying, “You’ve got to know how to act like champions before you’re champions.”
Maybe nothing happens. Maybe the 49ers go back to another subpar season in 2019, but consider this: The 49ers have had nothing to play for for weeks. They are out of the playoffs and playing backups of backups. Yet they have shown up every game and played to the final minutes. That’s part on the character of team that has been assembled, but it’s also in part to Kyle Shanahan keeping them motivated and steering them in the right direction when there’s no reason to at all. And he just proved they can win in their current state, injuries be damned. Wins like Seattle show they not only beat a playoff team, but they have the tools to do so. All this despite heartbreaking, devastating losses. All. Season. Long.
And Shanahan? He’s got a UDFA quarterback putting up massive numbers, a UDFA running back closing in on 1,000 yards, and playing backups of backups in the secondary whilst still managing to hang on against a playoff team and a division bully of the 49ers for years. Save those disdain for Shanahan takes. The guy can flat out coach. And he just showed his team they can win against a playoff team despite being decimated with injuries, adversity, and anything else brought during their season from hell. And him displaying they can win with this squad is far more significant than him showing they can win against playoff teams with Jimmy Garoppolo — and don’t misunderstand, that was an important stretch as well.
The 49ers are getting there. Their roster isn’t in the shape where things are, “just around the corner,” but we haven’t seen a team play this hard for someone since Jim Harbaugh. Don’t believe me? Watch some later-season Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula games and come back and tell me they have the same consistency in motivation. A win like this shows not only that the 49ers can do it, but Kyle Shanahan is sound in whatever methods he uses to keep them going in the right direction, even in a losing season. Remember, this is one of the youngest teams in the league, not a collection of players in their twilight years and overpaid free agents.
And for a team as young as the 49ers, that motivation, that confidence, is far more valuable than the first pick.