It wasn’t news that the 49ers beat the Giants Sunday. It would have been news if they lost. But this played out exactly to script.
Only three games into the season, it is pretty clear who the Giants are – a poor team with problems. They committed bonehead penalties, blew pass coverages, and when things went south in the second half, showed quite a bit of quit.
Good teams, which the 49ers are trying to prove they are, take down teams like that and sit on them for 60 minutes. And they did.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan didn’t even bother with the old on-any-given-Sunday routine.
“We kind of expected this,” he said afterward, offering a brief peek at the old Kyle Smug-ahan, who annoyed NFL types when he was young and brash.
But Shanahan has been trying to tell us something ever since the season started and maybe it is finally coming into focus.
It began back after the Jets game when Nick Bosa suffered a season-ending ACL tear, a disaster that sent the Faithful into conniption fits. Shanahan wasn’t happy about it, obviously, but he made a point to say “that’s football.” You lose individual players.
And last Sunday, when Nick Mullens subbed for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo, and rang up video game numbers, the point was made again.
Shanahan is trying to build a franchise, an organization. There’s a way of doing things, a culture and a mentality, that goes beyond the players you plugin.
Take a team like Arizona, which drafts an elite talent like Kyler Murray. The Cardinals are riding his remarkable ability as far as he can take them.
But the New England Patriots, or the Seattle Seahawks, have built a franchise that repeats, year after year, despite changing the pieces on the chessboard. They are the kind of teams that surprise everyone by signing undrafted free agents and getting quality playing time from them.
Players like oh, for example, Matt Breida, Kendrick Bourne or Raheem Mostert. And yes, like Mullens.
Mullens was terrific, throwing for 343 yards and a touchdown. And some of those throws were tough completions in a tight opening. But a lot of them were also to receivers who were wide, wide open. It helps to have an offensive savant drawing up the plays for you. You might be able to plug any number of QBs in that system and have reasonable success. (Not Brian Hoyer, obviously, but in general . . .)
By the way, if you want to crank up the old Mullens-should-start-instead-of-Jimmy merry-go-round, please take it to a separate chat room. Garoppolo has a better arm. That’s just a fact. Unless he screws up – repeatedly – the job is his. And he gets the benefit of Shanahan’s X-ing and O-ing. Of course he also has to accept that Shanahan is not exactly a fountain of compliments to his QBs. That’s also just a fact.
Rather than re-litigate this every time Garoppolo overthrows a receiver, accept the positive. Mullens has shown he is a capable backup and that is no small thing.
At this point the narrative is starting to take hold. Shanahan has talked about how much better off the team is compared to a few years ago. That their depth has improved, which speaks to an organization that has a plan, that knows the kind of player it wants and goes out to get them.
And don’t overlook the Trent Williams/Jordan Reed connection. Those are elite players who wanted to play for the 49ers and Shanahan. It is one thing to choose good players. It is another to have good players choose you.
Now, this isn’t going to be easy. Seattle has already shown that it is going to be very tough, especially as long as Russell Wilson is healthy. The Rams are flighty, but as their near-miss comeback against Buffalo showed, they can be dangerous. And the 49ers have already lost to the Cardinals.
But you have to like the Niners’ chances. They have a stable organization, motivated players and a steady coaching staff. You don’t win them all like that, but you definitely improve the odds.
Or you could be the New York Giants.
On a completely unrelated note, I felt really sorry for long snapper Kyle Nelson on Sunday. Snapping the ball for kicks and punts has to be the smallest subset of a niche of a job in the NFL. On most teams that’s the snapper’s only job, to flip a ball backwards, between his legs to a holder or a punter. Talk about a specific skill set.
As you probably saw, Nelson appeared to experience what Shanahan called a case of the “yips.” That’s when golfers get so mentally stressed over short putts that they can’t make them. Ben Hogan, one of the legends of golf, developed such a case of the yips that he stood over the ball, frozen, unable to take the putter back to hit the ball.
Nelson had problems sending the ball back to holder Mitch Wishnowsky, twice bouncing it on the turf. Both times Wishnowsky had to pick up the ball and attempt to run it.
TV shots of Nelson on the sideline seemed to show him extremely upset. Both kicker Robbie Gould and George Kittle came over to try to encourage him. But by the end of the game, he was replaced by Justin Skule.
People laugh at the yips, but they are serious and real. The Giants had a catcher, Mike Ivie, back in the 80s, who developed a phobia about throwing the ball back to the pitcher. He couldn’t do it. Eventually, he had to move to first base. Former Dodgers’ second baseman Steve Sax found himself suddenly unable to throw the ball to first base. One year he made 30 errors.
It may be funny to others, but it is embarrassing and upsetting to the person who is afflicted. It will be interesting, after a week of practice, to see if Nelson is sent back out there. History says Nelson’s yips could go either way. Sax managed to overcome his throwing fixation, but Ivie never really did.
And there was one silver lining Sunday. The 49ers did not attempt a single punt. There’s no telling where a ten-yard snap back to Wishnowsky might have gone.