It’s not time to panic.
Sure, the 49ers haven’t looked that good these last three weeks, and Brock Purdy’s Hall of Fame induction has been postponed. But it’s a long season, 20 games long (or so), and veteran fans know all too well that what happens in November has little relation to what happens when it really matters – which is January and February.
Just look at the World Series – back in May, no one would have even thought it would be Arizona and Texas, and in fact the same was true in August. So yes, San Francisco is 5-3 and can’t stop anyone, but let’s remember everyone’s focused on Halloween candy right now, not plans for MLK weekend.
That said, there are reasons for concern. But first, Purdy is not one of them. His total NFL experience is 13 games, less than a full season, so for all intents and purposes, he’s still a rookie. Which means he’s going to get better, not worse, and given his football IQ, that improvement is likely to be significant.
The defense, granted, is reason for concern. It seems like short and medium passes over the middle are always open, and open so quickly that the pass rush can’t make an impact. The first inclination is blame new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, and at this point, there does seem like there’s justification for doing so. The players haven’t changed that much, but they are a year older, so maybe it’s that – but until the defense delivers a dominating performance, the focus will deservedly be on Wilks.
And then there’s the key to any NFL season: Injuries. Right now, the 49ers have some key ones, and they will have more, especially from their older stars. It’s hard to imagine Christian McCaffrey, as hard as he runs, avoiding time on the sidelines. George Kittle? The same. Brandon Aiyuk catches a lot of passes over the middle, and sooner or later …
Deebo Samuel is already down, and his upright running style, and penchant for contact, means he’s probably going to go down again. Oh, and then there’s Trent Williams, whom some consider the best player at any position in the NFL. He’s 35, and just missed a game. What are the odds he won’t miss any more?
But of course all teams have injuries. That’s just part of it, and who knows when those injuries will strike. The key, of course, is to get them out of the way before the stretch run, or better yet, avoid them entirely.
Yes, the Niners are 5-3, but consider their last four opponents: Arizona, Baltimore, Washington and the Rams. It’s easy to see a reasonably healthy San Francisco rolling to four straight wins, and it’s easy to imagine that Purdy has weathered the storm of his midseason struggles as he gets his mojo back in December.
And then, with momentum and Steve Wilks having figured some things out, the 49ers head into the postseason – the only part of the season that really matters – ready to play their best. And we’ve already seen that their best is very, very good.
So really, there’s no need to panic.