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An Optimist’s Take: How the 49ers season can still go right

Sure, the first month has looked worrisome, but there’s plenty of time and a lot of reasons for this team to right the ship.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

There’s really no reason to sugarcoat things. Unfortunately, through four games, the 49ers have not lived up to even the most modest expectations or projections for what this roster and coaching staff should be able to deliver. Simply put, it’s been a frustrating month of football.

The wins featured a massive defensive collapse spurned by a season-ending injury, which was followed by a stagnant half of offense-less gameplay. As for the losses, the offensive woes continued, remaining ineffective for long stretches, unable to run the ball or convert third downs with any consistency. The lack of production wasted a pair of strong defensive performances that had managed to keep things in striking distance. It’s been a disappointing and, at times, heartbreaking experience.

I say all this to say; the season isn’t over. Not by a long shot. So, take a breath, light some candles, put on a rainfall soundtrack, and just relax. Consider this a guided meditation. I promise the 49ers are still good. So, go ahead, and make that your mantra.

First things first, believe in the time-tested principle of “Even Steven.” In this life, things find their natural balance. They course correct themselves. They average out. Football is no exception. As covered by Jordan Elliott, the 49ers have a glaring problem. Through four games, they’ve turned the ball over six times, and five of those times in their own territory.

Honestly, to shoot oneself in the foot so often with such accuracy goes all the way around from infuriating to kinda impressive. We aren’t just talking about spitting distance from midfield. All of those turnovers have been within their own 40! I mean, I’m not a historian, but I have to imagine this is an incredibly rare occurrence, like, maybe never-happened-before rare.

If you heard a team had coughed up the ball five times past their own 40 in their first four games, what would you think their record is? Would you imagine the games were close? Turnovers kill drives, swing momentum, and change outcomes. So far, that’s exactly what they’ve done, and the Niners have still played teams closely and won twice.

Once again, credit to the defense, obviously. Now, returning to my point, that’s just an untenable rate of ball redistribution. Not providing teams an extra 1.25 drives that start in borderline field goal range is a quick way to increase your win probability, and you have to believe, naturally, over time, that will work itself out.

The next big piece to remember about this upcoming stretch of football is that this is all going according to plan, a backup plan, but still a plan. Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury history has been a constant source of anxiety during the Shanahan era, so much so that they shipped off three first-round picks to select an heir apparent that could also function as an above-average backup for this season.

Well, here we are. Garoppolo strained his calf on the first drive of last week’s game, which seemingly spiked the offense for the rest of his snaps. Lance checked in, more than a little amped up without having had first-team reps in practice, and managed to eventually play himself into a rhythm.

It wasn’t always pretty, but the man got the Niners a good bounce away from a game-tying drive attempt. What more could you ask? He looked a little like a backyard ballplayer, and that’s the point. His raw athleticism and physical tools are so overpowering that he can simply outcompete a defense.

How nice was it to watch a quarterback take off for a must-have fourth-down conversation, and it not be against the Niners for a change? That’s what he brings to the table, that’s how the Niners hope to win in Garoppolo’s stead, and that’s why they drafted him. Please, hold your judgments on his long-term career prospects for now, and just enjoy the ride.

Lastly, there are two encouraging points to hang our hats upon; one has remained constant, and the other developed just this past Thursday night. In a twist of fate that continues to pay dividends, the schedule laid out ahead of the 49ers appears relatively unchallenging. It isn’t hard to squint and see ten total wins with the possibility of a couple more on there if things really come together.

One of those possible wins might have something to do with an injury to a player up in Seattle by the name of Russell Wilson. Not that anyone should ever root for injuries, but it’s just nice to know they can still happen outside of the Bay Area. Wilson’s six to eight-week recovery time would have him returning for or just missing this season’s second matchup with the 49ers.

More crucially, without the wizardry of Wilson, the Seahawks could easily fall out of the playoff hunt, leaving a wild card spot vacant. So beyond just being division rivals, up to this point, Seattle represents the biggest challenger to claim one of this year’s three berths over the Niners.

Like the Panthers or Saints, a few other teams are in the mix, but there’s a pretty steep drop-off after them, and this team might just be too talented not to land in the playoff picture. Then, anything could happen.

Hopefully, this has been helpful for everyone. I just wanted to communicate that it’s too early to call a time of death. There’s still much more football to be played based on the small sample size of four games. There’s still much more reason to believe than despair. So, as I said, deep breaths, candles, remember your mantra. Let’s go.