Santa Clara, CA (KPIX) — The San Francisco 49ers’ undefeated season continued Sunday with a 51-13 walloping of the Carolina Panthers. The 49ers remain the NFC’s only team yet to lose, and one of two in the NFL. The other, of course, is the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Both teams deserve credit for their performance so far, but both teams also deserve some skepticism for their light schedules (not that they have any control over that). The 49ers, in particular, have raised some eyebrows, given their young, still-unproven squad is coming off a 4-12 record in 2018, their fourth losing season in a row.
But sometimes things just click, and that may be the case in San Francisco.
The 49ers have found success on both sides of the ball. On offense, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has settled into the offense. While he isn’t wowing anyone — 18 of 22 passing, for 175 yards and two touchdowns is hardly the stat line one expects when an offense scores 51 points — he’s also not making backbreaking mistakes. The game manager approach to quarterbacking certainly can work with the right supporting cast. And the 49ers have that in Tevin Coleman, George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders, among others.
As Inside The NFL analyst Ray Lewis has observed, “it’s hard [for defenses] to study for them. They’re never doing the same plays. They’re never running the ball the same way. They’re always in different formations. And it’s really interesting, when I watch them — I’ve been studying them lately — and you would have to do a lot of homework to understand the 49ers from the offensive side.”
That uncertainty, thanks to Kyle Shanahan’s play-calling, keeps opposing defenses on their heels and on the field. These 49ers are winning the time-of-possession battle so far, averaging 34:31 per game, second only to the Baltimore Ravens. And their defense, who can get off the field, is a big part of it as well.
“The defensive side of the ball, they are young, they are fiery,” says Lewis, who knows quite a bit about fierce defense. “And they love playing football over there. And when you have an engine like [Nick] Bosa coming off that edge…” The 49ers rookie turned in a career game against the Panthers, with three sacks and an interception he almost returned for a touchdown. But Bosa is only part of a defensive line that’s emerged as one of the League’s most dominant.
“They have something, they have a formula,” notes Lewis. “And when you add Richard Sherman to that formula — a proven veteran, who’s done it many times, over and over again — I think they almost have the complete package.”
Formula not withstanding, this young team will face some challenges in the coming weeks. The second half of their season includes matchups with the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints, all teams cruising toward the playoffs.
“This is when the road gets rough,” according to Lewis. ” In the first half of the season, you find out who you are. In the second half of the season, you find out where you’re trying to go. And this is when they have to create. What are they trying to do, and where are they trying to go? Because now it gets rough, the teams are going to get harder. They had the easy part of their schedule. And now it’s about can you go win big ball games.”
These young 49ers seem ready. The second half of the season will show if they are.
Ray Lewis along with Phil Simms, Steve Smith Sr., Brandon Marshall and host James Brown take an in-depth look at the undefeated 49ers on tonight’s Inside The NFL. Is San Francisco for real?
You can watch Inside The NFL every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.