clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The 49ers must prove that they can win the close game down the stretch

It can be as simple as taking care of the ball.

Cincinnati Bengals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Adversity is necessary in football. The teams that stroll through the regular season untested end up with a rude awakening in the playoffs. Nobody remembers the Super Bowl champion losing during the regular season during the past five years.

San Francisco’s eyes remain on the prize, and for good reason. ESPN’s analytics give the 49ers an 83 percent chance to win the NFC West and a 96 percent chance of making the playoffs. So, unless the bottom falls out, the 49ers will make the playoffs.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan believes the only thing that’s slowed the 49ers offense is themselves:

“You don’t ever want to take stuff away from other teams because other teams always make it harder. But I do feel the times we’ve struggled, we’ve just made some key mistakes that I think we’re capable of not making. I think we’re the ones who have slowed ourselves down. When you look at how little we punted and things like that, you should have points to match with that. I don’t think we have the last few weeks. We’ve got to get more points.”

We’ve seen the difference in the offense when they’re healthy. They were humming and looked like juggernauts. Defenses didn’t have answers for all of the weapons, Brock Purdy was in the MVP conversation, and everything that could go well did.

Whether you believe it’s a step-up in competition, injuries, or a bit of both, things haven’t been as easy in the three games following the 49ers 5-0 start. One thing this team must learn how to do is win close games.

Here’s ESPN’s Nick Wagoner on what we don’t know yet about the 49ers:

What we don’t know yet: Does this team have the ability to pull out tight games at winning time? The Niners of recent vintage have been nothing if not resilient, winning games in nearly every way imaginable. But this group has a quarterback in Brock Purdy who hasn’t been in many adverse situations and a new defensive coordinator in Steve Wilks. Purdy’s passer rating drops more than 30 points when the Niners are trailing, and it remains to be seen whether he can consistently deliver in crunch time.

Purdy’s numbers when the team is behind on the scoreboard are undoubtedly troubling. One way to fix that is to, as Shanahan said above, not have as many empty trips earlier in the game, so you’re not losing late.

The 49ers were +7 in turnover margin during their first five games, but -3 in their three losses. As is the case with most teams, winning is as simple as taking care of the football when you’re facing competent opponents.

The Niners have three games in 12 days, so fatigue is inevitable. But close games will be a theme for the next month-ish, which means the 49ers will have to find a way to come out on the right side of these one-possession games.