The injury-ridden 49ers fell in Atlanta by a final score of 28-14 and currently find themselves at 3-3 through six weeks of the season. Here are my five takeaways from this week of 49ers football.
Buckle up; it’s a long season
The primary takeaway I had watching this game was that it felt like one of the handfuls of speed bumps that most NFL teams encounter over a season. Not to excuse the performance (which I will get to), but this wasn’t a game where I came away from watching it feeling like it was indicative of how this 49ers team will look going forward.
It feels eerily similar to last season when the 49ers got hit with the injury bug early and struggled to put together a complete product as they stumbled out to a 3-5 start before getting hot down the stretch.
That very recent example should provide some hope that the 49ers can find a way to right the ship and correct the litany of self-inflicted mistakes that have largely contributed to their early-season struggles.
If they can clean up the penalties and drops, they’re talented enough to get to double-digit wins and put together a deep run into January, just like they did last season. However, that outcome is dependent upon...
They have to get healthy
Don’t overthink this one. The 49ers entered Week 6, missing over half of its starters on defense, including a front runner for Defensive Player of the Year in Nick Bosa. But, then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.
Talanoa Hufanga exited the game and had to be evaluated for a concussion, while budding star cornerback Mooney Ward left the game with a groin injury and did not return. That left the 49ers' defense on the field without eight of their eleven starters, including zero in the secondary and only one on the defensive line in Samson Ebukam.
Ebukam himself was nowhere near 100%, dealing with knee and Achilles issues that held him out of practice early in the week. All things considered, this unit surrendering just 21 points to Atlanta, given the circumstances, is actually quite impressive and speaks volumes to how deep the roster is.
Things were better, albeit still bad, on the other side of the ball. The 49ers were already without superstar left tackle Trent Williams heading into this one, and they lost their other starting tackle when Mike McGlinchey suffered a calf injury that kept him out of the second half.
Ray-Ray McCloud had to be evaluated for a concussion in this one as well, adding another to the list of seemingly never-ending trips to the blue medical tent by 49ers players in this game.
The bad news is the 49ers have had to deal with the loss of so many key contributors this early on. The good news is that outside of Emmanuel Moseley's crucial loss, none of the injuries to their blue-chip players appear to be something they should be concerned about in the long term.
There is plenty of season left, and if they are able to get healthy and start adding pieces back, they have what it takes to compete with any other team on any given Sunday. If you are looking for something to console you in the meantime, you can hang your hat on the fact that...
The 49ers remain in first place in the NFC West
Despite some tough early season losses, the 49ers won both of the divisional games that they have played, which gives them the tiebreaker in an NFC West that has three teams sitting at 3-3.
As brutal as things have been for the 49ers on the injury front, they still find themselves in the driver's seat to win their division and get the home playoff game that comes with it.
Charles Omenihu and Drake Jackson continue to impress
For the second consecutive week, Omenihu and Jackson both recorded a sack. Omenihu now has logged a sack in each of the last three games and has recorded multiple pressures in each of the last five. Omenihu has been an absolute steal for the 49ers since they acquired him via mid-season trade in 2021, and is making a case for the 49ers to prioritize an extension for him this coming offseason.
Jackson recorded his third sack of the season, which ties him with Detroit’s Aidan Hutchinson for the league lead among rookies this season. The 49ers have to be thrilled with the early return they are getting on their 2022 second-round pick, who has flashed his immense potential without scratching the surface of his ceiling.
Locking up Brandon Aiyuk long-term needs to be a priority
I wanted to end this on a bright spot, and I could not think of a better way than to highlight how good Aiyuk looked in Atlanta. Aiyuk had eight catches for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Falcons and flat-out looked the part of a dominant number-one receiving option.
Aiyuk has everything you could want in a modern wideout. Hands? Check. Release package? Check. Route running ability? Check. Ability to create after the catch? Check. He does it all, and he is starting to make it look easy, which bodes extremely well for a 49ers offense in dire need of some consistency moving forward.
Aiyuk is just 24 years old and will be extension-eligible this coming offseason for the first time in his NFL career. It’s all but guaranteed that the 49ers will pick up Aiyuk’s fifth-year option, but it would be wise for them to explore a long-term deal with the 2020 first-round pick.
This guy is on the verge of breaking through into star territory, and he is just entering what are typically the prime years for wide receivers in the NFL. John Lynch and the front office need to do whatever it takes to ensure those years for Aiyuk are spent in the red and gold.