In covering the NFL, we can paint a rosy picture for all 32 teams, constantly viewing the glass as half-or-more full in order to get as many fans of as many teams as excited as possible before the season starts. Or we can tell the truth.
Some fan bases don’t want to hear the truth. As evidenced by the reaction to a couple of recent videos analyzing comments from 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, plenty of 49ers fans aren’t willing to hear the truth. And it’s hard to blame them.
The discussion was sparked by Shanahan saying this at the team’s annual “state of the franchise” event, while addressing the point at which the team had a 10-point lead with seven minutes to play in Super Bowl LIV: “[T]he state of the franchise right now is we got to get right back to that moment. We got to get right back to that fourth quarter and get to have a lead and we got to finish the job.”
Finishing the job should be the easy part. The ridiculously difficult part is getting back to the point where there’s a chance to finish the job.
Yes, the 49ers secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff field, making it a lot easier to knock off the Vikings and Packers and advance to the Super Bowl. Getting the No. 1 seed was a different story.
Even before it all came down to the closing seconds of the regular season, a narrow victory over Seattle that hinged on a stop at the goal line that otherwise would have relegated the 49ers to the No. 5 seed, the 49ers had to pull a rabbit out of the hat twice in the same drive to beat the Rams, the 49ers barely toppled the Saints in New Orleans, and they had a harder time than expected — twice — with the Cardinals. All the way back to Week Three, the 49ers’ win over a Steelers team adjusting to life without Ben Roethlisberger easily could have become a loss. If any of those games go the other way, the 49ers would have had to win three road games (with a wafer-thin chance of hosting the NFC Championship) to get to the Super Bowl.
Now, the 49ers have returned to what the late Dennis Green called “the valley of zero and zero.” It all starts over again, one week at a time, one game at a time. Having an urgency to fast forward to finishing the job in February will do nothing to help the team get there.
Throwing in the variables of the pandemic, this season carries even more uncertainty for all teams. Which will make it even harder for the teams perceived to be the best to make good on that promise — especially when those teams will be wearing a much bigger target, drawing the top effort from every opponent they face.
That’s one of the reasons why only two teams have ever won the Super Bowl the year after losing it. The 49ers will try to become only the third in the 54 times a team has lost the Super Bowl and tried to get ultimate atonement the next day.
Thus, the last thing the 49ers should be thinking about is getting back to the final half of the final quarter of the final game of the season. They should be focused solely on Week One until Week One comes. And then on Week Two. And so on.
That’s what Bill Belichick would do. It’s what he does. What happened last year means nothing. There’s no carryover. There’s no unfinished business. Every year, the business is the same, as far as Belichick is concerned.
And that’s why Shanahan’s comments are surprising. By all indications (and with apologies to all other young coaches), Shanahan has a very good chance to be the next Belichick. And if the Patriots had blown a 10-point lead at the end of Super Bowl LIV, Belichick wouldn’t be talking about, thinking about, or letting anyone in the organization talk about or think getting back to that point.