49ers are 3-0. Are they play­off bound?

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By James Pa­trick

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.’”

Fair point.

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.

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