The San Francisco 49ers are 3-0 to start the NFL season for the first time since 1998.
Man, that felt good to write. I was in kindergarten the last time this team instilled such hope in its fanbase so early in the season, so no, I don’t remember it. What I do remember, however, is the last time this team played football that was fun to watch. Unfortunately for myself and 49er fans everywhere, the 2011-2013 seasons were a long time ago.
The team’s quest for a sixth Super Bowl title hit a wall named the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, and it’s been a rough go for the 49er Faithful ever since. This season is different, though — the players have a different energy, and when I was at Levi’s Stadium for the team’s third win against Pittsburgh on Sunday, the fans were the loudest they’ve been in years.
Given the traumas of our past, it’s understandable that 49er fans are ready for a winning season.
We lost one of our favorite players and a rising young star when Patrick Willis and Chris Borland retired within weeks of each other in 2015, decimating our team’s defense in a matter of days. We saw potential championship-winning passes fall incomplete in back-to-back seasons, and went through four head coaches in as many years. And then, when we thought the front office had everything figured out with the dynamic duo of head coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, he tears his ACL in Week 3 of the 2018 season.
With Garoppolo back at the helm, the 49ers are going into their bye week undefeated with the league’s fourth-ranking offense and second-ranking defense — not bad for a guy who hasn’t even started a complete season yet and a team that had five turnovers on Sunday. The 49ers are good, and they’re only going to get better as they gain experience and fix mistakes over the course of the season.
The difference this season so far has been the team’s defense. They’ve allowed an average of just 282 yards per game, behind only the Patriots’ 199. The turnover-heavy defense has also kept the 49ers in games that before would have been lost, and after the offense coughed up five turnovers of their own on Sunday, they shut down the Steelers countless times in the red zone.
Despite the enthusiasm among fans in celebration of the 49ers’ 3-0 start, there are still countless Garoppolo doubters, I’ve noticed. Some say he hasn’t proven himself yet, and others say he’s not a quarterback capable of taking the team to the Super Bowl. So, here’s where I come to the defense of good ol’ Jimmy G., the starting quarterback for the undefeated San Francisco 49ers.
Is the team as good offensively as it has been defensively? No, not yet. But, the offense isn’t bad. Winning games should come from a combination of good offensive plays and defensive plays. The defense should pick up the offense when it’s done something wrong, and vice versa. Sunday’s turnovers shouldn’t fall solely in the hands of Garoppolo; his two interceptions on the day were well-intended passes that tipped off the hands of his receivers.
It was Garoppolo who threw the game-winning pass to Dante Pettis in a high-pressure situation, and it was the quarterback who took hit after hit on Sunday and still stayed in the game. He’s a leader, and he’s been great for the team.
Garoppolo is 11-2 as a starting quarterback. With the 49ers, he’s 9-2, and over the course of the team’s last two wins, his pass grade is ranked only behind Tom Brady. It doesn’t hurt that this season he has a slew of young offensive weapons to choose from in Kyle Juszczyk, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Matt Breida, to name a few, but it feels like this team has a quarterback it can finally depend on.
That’s a new feeling in Levi’s Stadium, which many fans have accused of being “cursed” since the 49ers moved there in 2014. It’s never quite captured the same atmosphere that was found at Candlestick Park, but this year could be the first time fans experience a winning season at Levi’s and they can sense it. Sunday’s home opener was loud, and I asked Richard Sherman about whether or not it played a factor in their win after the game.
Based on his response, I can only assume the Faithful will have plenty to cheer about this season — especially if they keep showing up.
“It had a great impact. Niner gang — we appreciate you guys,” he said. “We went out there and fought for you...it’s not always pretty. It’s not always going to be, you know, go out and just get to sit comfortably in your seats and drink. Sometimes we’ve got to keep you on the edge of your seats, keep you involved.
“We appreciate you guys sticking through, being loud, being proud. 3-0 for the first time since ‘98. Niner gang.”