49ers are 3-0. Are they playoff bound?
Sure, the San Francisco 49ers are 3-0 for the first time since 1998. But are they any good?
There are reasons to think the 49ers are a legit playoff threat; there’s also plenty of reasons to think they’re pretenders. So what do we make of this team?
To start, let’s start with the most important stats. The 49ers are one of four 3-0 teams in the NFC. They’ve scored 96 points, a point shy of the Dallas Cowboys for best in the conference. The defense has given up 54 points, good for fourth-best in the conference.
For now, let’s dwell on the positives.
49ers defense remains stout
The defense gave up just 81 rushing yards against the Steelers on Sunday. And when Pittsburgh got the ball back, trailing by four points with 1:09 left in the game, San Francisco’s defense was lights out: The 49ers knocked the Steelers back a yard and earned a turnover on downs.
And forget yardage, San Francisco’s defense is doing something it was inept at last year: getting turnovers. The 49ers had an interception and a fumble recovery Sunday against the Steelers. This from a team that managed just seven takeaways last season.
Excepting the otherworldly New
England Patriots, San Francisco is also the best defense in the league, allowing 283. 3 yards per game. (The Patriots, if you want to count them, allow a paltry 199 yards a game.)
After the win over the Steelers, Kwon Alexander was fired up about his defense, which held Pittsburgh to just six points on five 49ers turnovers.
“Did you see us when we were out there on the field?” Kwon Alexander asked. “It doesn’t matter. ... Wherever we’re at on the field, we’re going to do our thing. It doesn’t matter if we’re on the 2yard line or if the ball’s put on the (other) 2-yard line. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to go out there and just play hard and finish the game.”
Jimmy Garoppolo is finding his form
Sure, the 49ers quarterback had a pair of interceptions Sunday. He still managed an 82.4 rating and a very healthy 8.66 yards per attempt. And it’s not like the offense isn’t clicking. The 49ers are fourth in the NFL in average yards per game (421) and also fourth in rushing yards per game (175).
Garoppolo hasn’t been amazing but he also hasn’t been getting in the way of success. Most important, when the 49ers needed Garoppolo to be good, he was rock solid.
On the 49ers’ final drive, which started at the Pittsburgh 24 after a fumble recovery with 5:29 remaining in the game, Garoppolo completed 3 of 4 passes, with the only incompletion coming after a Steelers defensive holding penalty. The 49ers’ quarterback threw for 18 yards on the short drive and ran for two more as San Francisco overcame five turnovers to pick up a home win.
“There is two ways to look at this game,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “You can focus on the negatives and on all the turnovers, but at the same time, you can look at the positives, like, ‘Wow, we had all of those turnovers and we still won this game.’”
49ers find a way to come out on top
They’re unbeaten. We can talk stats but they only one that actually matters is the 3-0 record. No, it hasn’t been particularly pretty. But you have to like everything about the 49ers’ final possession.
They drained the clock, which isn’t easy to do when you take over at your opponent’s 24-yard line. They never rushed, with Garoppolo finding the right mix of urgency and patience. The result was a four-minute, 14-second drive that ended with Garoppolo’s game-winning 5-yard pass to Dante Pettis.
“That’s what winning football teams do,” offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “They make plays in big moments.”
Still, there are plenty of reasons for doubt. Let’s start with their opponents, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals and Steelers, who are not exactly a gauntlet. They’ve combined for a 1-8 record. But there’s more to talk about.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan during the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 15 in Cincinnati.