I couldn’t get a Vibe Check up before TNF because I was in Seattle this past week for work. And everywhere I went in Seattle, every local that I interacted with would eventually bring up that it was the last week of summer. The sun was out and everybody was out and about trying to binge the sunshine and stock up on serotonin before a long winter.
The first major rainfall of the rainy season was forecasted for the day after I left, so I hope the fine people of Seattle relished last week. Their football team won’t bring them much solace because a long winter of divisional inferiority to the 49ers looms.
I think about Seattle even though Arizona is up next, because you can never count them out in the NFC West playoff races. Pete Carroll gets his guys ready for the 49ers, no matter if it’s home or away, whether they’re surging or fading, or whether Jimmy or Russ or Geno or Brock is playing quarterback. The ex-college coach in him makes it a bona fide rivalry for his guys, and it’s something to respect and take note of as the 49ers enter this next phase of the season.
Through the first three weeks, this team has been gathering momentum. They’re still getting in sync, but they’re learning, in real time, how to put themselves in better positions to win the game. They’re getting reps which builds confidence, creating memories in their heads to draw back on when they’re in a gnarlier situation.
Say they get down against the Eagles in Week 11 in Philadelphia, or they slug it out with Dallas in a few weeks. It’ll be really useful when they can recall how they worked themselves through the blitzes of New York or the coverage adjustments they had to make against LA.
This upcoming week is all about sustaining that momentum. They don’t need to prepare and play this game as well as they absolutely can to win - they can clearly win with their C games - but the better they play now, the closer they get to their ceiling. The more they stay on top of all the details now in the calmer waters, the better their muscle memory will be in choppier waters ahead.
At this point, their biggest opponent is themselves. It takes an A game to win every day against the past version of yourself.
Sustaining momentum is a different ballgame than gathering the momentum. They don’t have the pressure of having something to prove. They have to generate their own pressure in order to stack these wins. They have to be motivated by greed now. Scarcity tends to generate urgency and abundance tends to generate complacency, and it’s no trivial matter trying to balance both.
I think it’s why fans get a little fidgety in those slower starts in the first quarter. The fan base is expecting to be up two scores by the end of the first quarter. We have the massive privilege of being able to get mad at Brock for not playing an absolute perfect game.
We have the luxury of being nitpicky with a starting QB who has yet to lose a regular season game. Our minds are always on February even though the actual players have to get through September first, which is when using “we” and “our” starts to feel a little weird.
Seattle and San Francisco have a lot more in common than in difference, even though we both live rent-free in each other’s heads (only because rent is so expensive in our actual cities). For example, finding the best coffee shops, restaurants, and breweries in these two cities is like trying to put together an All-Jim-And-Kyle-Eras 22-man starting line up (which was a real question that someone asked in Matt Barrow’s mailbag column).
It’s an embarrassment of defensive riches to pick a front seven between all those teams. On the interior, the most tenured defensive linemen is Justin Smith and the newest to the team is Javon Hargrave. On the edges, the on-the-field peaks of Aldon Smith and Nick Bosa are downright Himalayan. Behind these guys, you’re choosing between Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, and Fred Warner.
The most exciting part of this season is seeing these guys write their stories - can they influence this conversation through their play? Talanoa Hufanga and Charvarius Ward can cement their legacy as legendary 49ers DBs with every turnover and big tackle. The offense is chasing the ghosts of the 80s and 90s, with every one of the star veterans playing just as much to prove themselves the best of their positions as they are to contend with the legacy of literal GOATs.
Every game, from that perspective, is a blank canvas. Doesn’t matter the opponent. Arizona might be tanking and if all goes according to plan, it won’t be much of a game. But even if it’s a blow-out, that doesn’t mean it won’t be meaningful. And if I’m wrong, and it’s anything but a beat down, then oh boy, next week’s vibe check will sure be something…