San Francisco brass think team a playoff threat despite record

San Francisco was just torn down by Kansas City and still managed to come out more confident than a week ago.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff to sort out and you’re right, we don’t have much room for error now, but you can see where the plan will play out,” a 49ers assistant coach said Sunday after the Chiefs have knocked. San Francisco 44-23 at Santa Clara.

“But I can honestly say I’m more excited about what we can be than a week ago…you go back to 2020 when the Chiefs put one in Tampa Bay and then Tampa Bay got them, I can us see do that. I really can,” the assistant coach said.

He was referring to how Kansas City decimated Tampa Bay in the regular season two years ago to see the Buccaneers get revenge for the Super Bowl.

San Francisco running back Christian McCaffre made his debut against Kansas City in Santa Clara, Calif. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

This is what a great player as Christian McCaffrey can do to the imagination.

Yes, somehow a team that just fell to 3-4 while their supposedly solid defense was put aside made people still dream of winning a title. It’s the same team that opened the season with a loss in Chicago, butchered a game against Denver, and then lost in Atlanta to a slew of injuries. It’s also a team with Jimmy Garoppolo still throwing some winning passes on occasion.

This team still has visions of hoisting a Lombardi Trophy in February? Seriously?

Yes, and if you squint really hard through those National Treasure glasses, it’s possible to see what the trainer is saying. In the two dozen games McCaffrey was on the field, the 49ers offense looked different. There was an explosiveness as the Chiefs defense was held to account for them. McCaffrey had 10 touches that totaled 62 yards. Not overwhelming, but there were visions of what 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan could possibly do.

When McCaffrey got on the move, the Chiefs’ safeties had to be careful. At this point in the season, the 49ers running backs hadn’t been a factor in the passing game.

Now McCaffrey can help open up the defense for tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel, two players who eat safeties for a living. There were times in this game where the 49ers hinted they were explosive. There was a rhythm to what they were doing that hasn’t been there all season. It was far from enough, but it was better than what they showed.

In the running game, McCaffrey has a quickness that matches the blocking pattern perfectly and, when combined with Jeff Wilson, gives Shanahan the best combination of running backs he’s had since Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman at Atlanta. It was an explosive offensive season that ended with the historic Super Bowl loss to New England.

A loss that still gnaws at Shanahan and contributed to the deal he struck this week for McCaffrey.

There’s more to this vision than just McCaffrey. In the final 10 games of the season, the 49ers have a bye, seven of 10 home games (including five straight) and don’t leave the Pacific Time Zone the rest of the way.

San Francisco QB Jimmy G
Kansas City’s Frank Clark tackles San Francisco QB Jimmy Garoppolo in the end zone for a safety in Santa Clara, Calif. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Again, the four losses don’t leave much room for error, relying on McCaffrey, Kittle, Samuel and Garoppolo to stay healthy is overkill, and, finally, believing Garoppolo won’t screw up at a critical moment. is a major assumption.

That said, believing that Philadelphia, the New York Giants, Dallas and Minnesota will simply run away with the NFC or that Seattle, the current NFC West leader, is a real threat is also a series of questionable assumptions.

The thing is, for all the quirks this season for the 49ers, including returning to Garoppolo after Trey Lance’s injury, they’re a hugely talented team with a lot of motivated people.

McCaffrey wants to prove he’s still an elite player.

Garappolo wants to get in position for another big payday. Shanahan is still burning from the two Super Bowl losses and the NFC Championship Game loss he suffered over the past six years.

And those are just a few of the 49ers who like to dream big, even after a big loss.

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