There is absolutely no way to sugarcoat it; Sunday’s loss at home to the Arizona Cardinals was by far the worst of the Kyle Shanahan era. In a must-win game against a Cardinals team that was without their starting quarterback, top two wide receivers, and a game wrecking talent in JJ Watt, the 49ers put on a performance that couldn’t even be described as “embarrassing” because that word would not do justice to describe the abysmal showing that we all witnessed.
I truly believe this is the lowest point the 49ers have reached since Shanahan took over based on the level of expectation going into this season and the organizational failure we have seen all year as we enter the halfway point of the 2021 campaign. This team has not won a game at Levi’s stadium since week 6 of the 2020 season, and that streak was extended by a team with a starting quarterback making only his sixth start in his last six seasons.
This year there has been a lack of execution, poor in-game management from the coaching staff, and all-around poor play, all of which manifested itself at the same time in a game the 49ers had a golden opportunity to place themselves squarely back into the NFC playoff picture.
So the question now becomes, where do they go from here? Pardon my optimistic tone in this trying time, but I genuinely feel after a performance that poor, the only way they can go from here is up. Now, does that mean I think that they will string together some kind of run and magically fix the ailments that have plagued them all season? Absolutely not. It does mean that the performance was so bad that even the most marginal of improvements would be a step in the right direction.
There were positives in this game, despite how they may have been buried beneath the horrific showing that defined the end result. The offense showed flashes of life (when they weren’t turning the ball over in critical spots). The defense showed an ability to get home with a pass rush from the interior during obvious passing situations (when they weren’t being flagged for *checks notes* having their hands enter the helmet of the opposing quarterback).
Ultimately the 49ers aren’t COMPLETELY removed from the playoff picture at this point. Entering week 10, they sit one game back of the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC. The problem is that there are three teams between where they currently stand and the aforementioned playoff spot.
The good news is the 49ers play two of these teams (Minnesota & Seattle), which helps them control their own destiny should they right the ship and find a way to salvage what has felt like a lost season to this point. How can they do that? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, they have to find out how to stay out of their own way. The 49ers have lost five games this season, but none of their opponents have beaten them as bad as they’ve beaten themselves this year.
A lot of this comes back to fundamental issues like taking care of the football. They won both games that they had zero turnovers in (@ Philadelphia & @ Chicago) while they turned the ball over multiple times in four out of their five losses this season. It’s become apparent that this team isn’t built to play from behind, and putting the ball in the opposing team’s hands with plus field position is more of a recipe for disaster than it ever has been due to their ever-increasingly small margin of error.
So really, the question becomes, can they put it all together for a full 60 minutes? If they are capable of doing that, I still believe they are talented (keyword here) enough to hang with anyone. The issue is that the lack of consistency we have seen all season points to that being a long shot, despite the optimism I cling to based on the spurts of GOOD football I’ve seen from this team this season.
The 49ers are running out of time to figure things out, but there is still over half a season to be played, and the range of outcomes certainly includes one where they realize they are, in fact, their own worst enemy and eliminate the self-inflicted wounds as a result.So chinn up, there is a lot of football left to be played, and no matter how they finish the season, it almost assuredly will be an improvement from the low point that was reached during week 9.