I must say, 5-10 never looked so good on a team, but the 49ers are wearing it well.
They're shredding offensively, and punching teams in the mouth on defense. Players we'd never heard of before this season are establishing their brands, and veterans are having career years. Frankly, there might not be a team in the league with as much raw momentum as San Francisco since Jimmy Garoppolo arrived and flipped the switch.
After toppling Jacksonville this week to win their fourth straight, they're riding as high as ever, and it feels like a shame the league can't "change their rank," so to speak, and flex them into a Wild Card spot.
But even though their season is four quarters away from being over, they're finishing on a high note, and have a lot of positives to reflect on. Here are five things we learned from the 49ers' win over the Jaguars in Week 16.
-The 49ers can beat anybody. “Any given Sunday” is how the saying goes, and we were witness to that in Week 16. A team that for nine weeks looked like it might not win a game all year convincingly took down a legit Super Bowl contender with the No. 1 defense, to win their fourth straight. And it’s because they have a special quarterback. At this point, the 49ers must be considered a threat to win any game. The days of disrespectful point spreads should be a thing of the past.
-Garoppolo is a surgeon, with a clean pocket or under pressure.
The reason the Jaguars defense was so frustrated was likely because, no matter what they did, they couldn’t get Garoppolo off his game. They sent pressure from the get-go, but he was standing tall, taking hits and delivering strikes. Jacksonville then tried to make him throw into coverage but that didn’t work either. Garoppolo was ice cold, totally unaffected, and executing through all conditions. This makes him scary.
-49ers run defense is legit again. No. 4 overall pick Leonard Fournette couldn’t get going against this new front seven, as he averaged just 2.7 YPC on 18 attempts. The defense has also held its opponent under 100 yards rushing for five straight games now. A big reason for this sample is Reuben Foster, and also Solomon Thomas. The two rookies have been instrumental in the turnaround. But the overall gap discipline has been sound, and defensive backs have been charging up in run support. They’re back to that swarming style and limiting yards after contact.
-Lynch/Shanahan regime can scout. The 49ers had nine rookies contribute in the win over Jacksonville, including two undrafted free-agent skill players on offense. They also had three veteran free-agent defenders signed below market value chip in, and three veteran free-agent receivers all make catches. They also had two waiver pickups on the defensive line see action, and a cornerback that was recently called up from the practice squad. All these players are in their first year with the team, many of them are in their early 20's, and yet they all pitched in to beat one of the NFL's best squads.
-Not far away. Because the 49ers have a quarterback playing like a top-5 guy, and because they possess a talented young defense, and one of the best offensive minds in the game, they're suddenly looking like a playoff team. They'd be a tougher out than some of the other teams set to make the NFC Wild Card this year (see: Atlanta, Carolina) — and if Garoppolo started the entire season, that's where they might be. One more strong offseason by the front office and there may be hype around the 49ers making a deep run in 2018.
Media courtesy San Francisco 49ers