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Kurtenbach: Why the 49ers’ win over Rams should silence all skeptics

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Skepticism is healthy, and with the 2019 49ers, it was perhaps warranted heading into Sunday’s game against the Rams, despite the team’s 4-0 start to the season.

But for those who were holding out in buying into these Niners — for those who wanted to see them play a “good team” — I only have one question:

Do you believe now?

You better.

Because if the Niners’ four-quarter, 20-7 domination over their top divisional rival and the defending NFC champion doesn’t fully convince you of what has been apparent for the last three contests — that these Niners are a quality team with all the right ingredients to play in January — then you simply refuse to accept the new reality.

Sunday’s win was a statement to the skeptics and an emphatic affirmation to those who had already bought in:

These Niners are good. Really good.

And they’re not going away, either.

Not with a defense this good, this fast, this physical, and this forceful. No sir.

And not with an elite offensive coordinator and a running game that can push around even the best fronts in the NFL, either.

And certainly not when you factor in the character and reliance of this squad.

(Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

Make no mistake about it: The deck was stacked against the Niners on Sunday.

It’s hard enough to beat the Rams, the winner of the 49ers’ division and one of the NFL’s best teams over the last two years, but to beat them on the road, when the Niners had a short week and the Rams had an extra four days of rest, is impressive.

And to do that, despite missing four key starters — both first-string offensive tackles, a linchpin fullback, and a starting cornerback — is outstanding.

But the statement came in the way the Niners beat the Rams on Sunday.

LA punched the Niners in the jaw on the first two drives of the game, jumping the Niners’ offense, forcing a three-and-out, and then, when possession flipped, exclusively running it 56 yards into the end zone.

It was an embarrassing start for San Francisco, one that threw into question — if only for a few moments — everything we had seen from this upstart team in its first four games of the season.

But instead of wallowing over circumstance — instead of questioning if they were, in fact, good enough to play with an NFC power — the Niners responded with a methodical, 10-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to tie the game at 7-7.

The Niners flipped the game with that counterpunch, and from that point on, the Rams could barely land one while the Niners relentlessly connected with blow after blow after blow to their NFC West rival.

(Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images) 

The Niners’ left was the offense. It wasn’t strong on Sunday, but it was effective — better at body-blow jabs than knock-out hooks to the jaw.

We probably shouldn’t have expected much more. The Niners, down Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, two of the NFL’s top offensive tackles, didn’t stand much of a chance pass blocking against the NFL’s best player — Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald — but coach Kyle Shanahan had a binder full of quick-hit passing plays that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was under constant pressure Sunday, was able to execute at an admirable level.

Had the Niners not made two glaring mistakes deep in Rams’ territory — an egregious Garoppolo interception and a dreadful drop by a wide-open Tevin Coleman at the goal line — the score might be more indicative of the timbre of the game’s 124 other snaps.

The Niners averaged 4.4 yards per play on Sunday. In most games, that’s not enough to win. But with the Niners’ defense in a groove like the one it is in right now, that kind of offensive output is surplus to needs.

The 49ers’ defense was unquestionably the right on Sunday, landing big blow after big blow against a Rams team that didn’t look prepared for a real fight.

It all started with the Niners’ pass rush, which was elite for a fifth straight game. San Francisco had four sacks, five quarterback hits, and at least a dozen quarterback pressures. And yet even those impressive numbers seem inadequate in explaining how the San Francisco pass rush controlled the game.

The Niners were so imposing on the defensive end that Rams coach Sean McVay clearly changed his team’s gameplan mid-way through the first half. Much like Shanahan, he didn’t trust his offensive line in pass protection, so he tried to implement a quick passing game. The Niners shut that down with speed and sure tackling.

The Niners’ defense broke LA’s boy wonder coach and his supposedly high-powered offense, and it wasn’t through smoke and mirrors, gadget plays and trickeration — it was straightforward talent and smarts.

Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who had thrown for 912 yards in his last two games, was short-hopping easy throws against the relentless Niners’ onslaught — he only registered 78 yards on 24 attempts against San Francisco on Sunday, with the majority of those yards coming after the outcome of the game was sealed.

And after the first drive of the game, the Niners allowed only 53 yards rushing over the final 10 possessions. The Rams had minus-29 yards of offense in the third quarter and were twice stuffed on important fourth-and-short opportunities in the contest.

When football old-timers say “defense travels,” they’re talking about a defense like the 49ers’ Red Storm.

And what’s that other thing they say about defense? It has something to do with championships…

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though — Super Bowl LIV is a long ways away and the 49ers have 11 regular-season games left to play, with plenty left to prove if they want to join the coterie of the NFL’s elite squads.

But it’s clear that these Niners have ascended to another level — a level only a few expected them to reach so soon: they’re contenders. Knock the record all you want, but it’s unimpeachable — five wins are five wins and they can’t play anyone else’s schedule.

And with Sunday’s win, these Niners are the 54th team (and the second this season) to start 5-0 since the NFL changed to its current playoff format in 1990. The average finish of those 5-0 teams is 12-4 and only five have failed to make the playoffs.

Do you really see these Niners being the sixth such team?

After Sunday, you shouldn’t.

Source: East Bay Kurtenbach: Why the 49ers’ win over Rams should silence all skeptics

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