This team is special. The San Francisco 49ers returned from a messy Week 7 win over Washington to remind us of that reality. The 49ers bludgeoned (shoutout to Jimmy T) the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, authoring a convincing 51-13 win over a good team at Levi’s Stadium. It was the most points scored by the 49ers under Kyle Shanahan, finding the endzone a whopping seven times on the day.
Here are our takeaways from San Francisco’s statement against the Panthers:
Super Bowl contenders
This is undeniable. The 49ers’ dominance over a strong Panthers team on Sunday cemented their status as an elite contender for the title in 2019. Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh both have their units playing at a high level, besting their opposition in ways that make it seem easy. The 49ers ranked third in the NFL in points per game (29.6) while ranking second in points allowed (11). This team is firing on all cylinders, building up the momentum they’ll need for the challenge that awaits. More on that later.
Bosa already among the elite
Forget Defensive Rookie of the Year. Nick Bosa has inserted himself into the conversation for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award. The 49ers’ rookie pass rusher had greatly exceeded what were already high expectations when Bosa was drafted No. 2 overall in this year’s draft. In seven games and five starts, Bosa has totaled 20 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits, and seven sacks. His highlight play on Sunday came when he avoided a cut bock by the left tackle and then immediately jumped into the air and picked off Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen, returning it 46 yards before being tackled just short of the endzone.
Sanders’ debut merely a preview
General manager John Lynch traded for Denver Broncos wideout Emmanuel Sanders this week, who made his 49ers debut on Sunday against the Panthers. He didn’t disappoint. Sanders was the offense’s most targeted wideout, catching four passes on five throws for 25 yards and a touchdown. The stats aren’t eye-popping, but it’s just a small sample size of what’s to come as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo builds chemistry with the nine-year veteran. Sanders converted multiple third-downs for the 49ers and is already looking like the go-to target the 49ers needed along the perimeter to complement tight end George Kittle.
Running game is back
Over their last two games against Washington and Los Angeles, the 49ers were held to just 2.9 yards per carry on the ground. They averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the first four games combined. The conditions in Washington should be considered, as well. No matter, as the Shanahan’s rushing game exploded back to life on Sunday against the Panthers. The offense averaged 6.1 yards per carry, totaling 38 rushes for 232 yards and five total touchdowns - four of which belonged to running back Tevin Coleman if you include his screen pass. All without their prized fullback and two starting tackles.
The gauntlet awaits
Thursday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals will mark the halfway point in the season for the 49ers. The second half of their season presents a daunting challenge for this squad - one that will either catapult them further into the realm of the elite or bring them back down to some form of reality. Over the last eight games in 2019, the 49ers will face the Seattle Seahawks (6-2), Green Bay Packers (7-1), Baltimore Ravens (5-2), New Orleans Saints (7-1), and Los Angeles Rams (5-3). Ravens, Saints, and Seahawks (in Week 17) are all away games. The 49ers are a great team. We’ll begin to find out how great as they charge forward into the maelstrom.