The San Francisco 49ers are finished.
That was the sentiment many held prior to Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Back-to-back losses in which the offense failed to score a single second-half point and a rumor mill that posited the locker room was in mutiny against its head coach had fans, haters, and pundits alike labeling San Francisco as a sinking ship.
The talk appeared to be rooted in truth for the first half of Sunday's game. San Francisco gave up three non-offensive touchdowns — a blocked punt, interception return, and punt return — and looked to be in disarray. If the past two weeks were any indication of what was to come, odds were San Francisco was headed for a third consecutive loss for the first time with Jim Harbaugh at the helm.
As it turned out the odds were in San Francisco's favor. Instead of being shut out in the second half, the offense matched its first-half scoring output while the defense shut down Chip Kelly's revolutionary offense. The Eagles, who had scored 40 points in the fourth quarter through their first three games, were handed their first loss by a team that had been deemed doomed only a few hours prior.
Sunday's win was in many ways a return to form for San Francisco. The 49ers relied on their defense to make key plays, they turned to their running game, and they won the fight in the trenches. In the fickle world that is the NFL, where winning can change everything, one would think that the comeback win would silence critics and restore confidence in Harbaugh, Colin Kaepernick, and co. At least for one week.
But questions are still lingering. Harbaugh's leadership is still being questioned. Kaepernick is still being expected to play better. It's only four games into the season and everybody seems to be in panic mode.
The rise and fall of teams, in both the short and long term, fuels NFL fandom. The more a team climbs, the more talk there is of a potential fall. The 49ers have been on an upward climb for the past three years, and just like Sunday's game was a must win for the season, this season may be a must win for the current regime. In fact, chances are it will be its defining season.
Every team says it's Super Bowl or bust at the beginning of each season but it's usually more true for some than others. In San Francisco's case, it's extremely true. It seems only a Lombardi Trophy can silence the questions once and for all.