Game #16: ‘Niners

Joe Montana threw some 5391 pass attempts in his career. But, only one of them resulted in “The Catch.” Dwight Clark leaps up high in the air to put away Dallas. January 10, 1982

One of the very few things these two teams have in common this week is that they both are coming off of losing games. That’s familiar territory for the WFT. Much like the Carthaginian General Hannibal, they will either find a way (to lose) or make a new one. Last weeks loss to the woebegone Jets was yet another example. It’s best if not re-lived. The 49ers simply got their fannies spanked by Baltimore. That crew should be pretty salty when it arrives in DC. This game means a lot to them. Winning their last two games gives them a bye week and home field advantage. On the other hand a loss is meaningful to Washington for draft position.

Playing out the string is a familiar ritual in Washington. The WFT franchise has a lot of practice with it. This year’s experience is different only because the optimism of the ownership change has been on hold awaiting clearance to land. That will come on January 8, better known as “Black Monday” in the League. Widespread changes are surely coming. The catch is that change only occasionally translates into improvement.

The inaugural 49ers in 1946.

The origins of the San Francisco 49ers go back to 1946. The newly formed All American Football Conference had nine teams. There were two teams from New York/ Brooklyn. These were named, not surprisingly the Yankees and Dodgers. There were also two teams from Buffalo; the Bills and Bisons. The Bisons folded after one season, the burden of misspelling an already plural word perhaps being too much burden to bear. The Miami franchise moved to Baltimore after one year. The Cleveland Browns won all four championships before the Conference merged with the NFL in 1950. It was a precursor to the AFL/NFL merger some twenty years later. Into the NFL went the Browns and the 49ers. The other remaining teams folded. Baltimore resuscitated the franchise two years later entering the League in 1953.

Kezar Stadium. Home of the 49ers for many years.

San Fran never won a title in the pre-merger NFL. It went into the playoffs twice, losing both times. In 1970 they made it to the Conference Championship only to lose 17-10 to Dallas. In the 53 years since they have been to the playoffs some 27 times (52%). There are seven Super Bowl trips in that run with five Lombardi trophies. Between 1981 and 1998 the ‘Niners missed the playoffs only twice in those eighteen years. The 49er fan experience has been pretty darned good.

John Brodie played his entire 17-year career in San Francisco. He never won a Championship. His career record ended up being two games under ..500.

This particular edition of the team is especially good. Kyle Shanahan is yet another Washington Assistant Coach who has done well in the lead position. He had three of his first four seasons end up as below .500. The one outlier was a Super Bowl run that ended with a thud to Baltimore. In the last 3 years his team is 44-15. Shanahan runs an Offense that is heavy on hybrid players.

After a two-game losing streak in 2022 San Fran traded with Carolina to get superstar Christian McCaffrey. They gave up four picks; a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th from 2023 along with a 5th in 2024. Carolina promptly traded away the 2nd in a package to move up for Bryce Young. Whether that is a long-term win is a long ways away from being decided. At the moment it doesn’t look promising. The Panthers also traded away two more of the picks to again move up to draft Edge Rusher DJ Johnson. He has produced nothing. So far none of the McCaffrey trade has helped Carolina. On the other hand “CMC” as the 49ers radio announcers call him has been nothing short of phenomenal. He averages 5.4 yards per rush attempt. He’s found pay dirt some 21 times this year with 7 of them being pass receptions. He can line up anywhere in the backfield, at H-Back, or as the Z-Receiver. So far he hasn’t thrown a pass this season.

The other hybrid menace the 49ers have is Deebo Samuel. He has thrown a pass, albeit an incomplete one. Samuel is a tour de’ force. Although listed as a Wide Receiver Deebo averages 5.4 yards per carry. It’s the same average as CMC. He also has 53 pass receptions at an average of 15.7 yards per reception. He can also pass block like nobody’s business. When he was hurt this season the team lost three games.

Tight End George Kittle has caught 62 balls at an average of 16.0 yards per reception. The Offensive Line is stellar. It’s being lead by former WFT standout Trent Williams. In typical Snyder fashion the WFT received only a third-round and fifth-round pick for a potential Hall of Fame candidate. Alas.

So, Brock Purdy, the last player taken in the 2022 Draft found himself with a Lotto ticket. A young QBs three best friends are a good O-line, a good Tight End, and a good Running Back. Purdy walked into a situation where he had all three. Young Sam Howell entered a different space altogether. The O-Line is godawful, the Running Backs are not bad, but the Tight Ends leave the imagination grasping. Logan Thomas can make the amazing catch…then drop the next three balls in his hands. Making the situation worse Eric Bieniemy never found a pass play he didn’t love. Running the ball to him is, apparently, so last century. Purdy gets grief for being a “Systems QB”, or a “Manager.” Howell would love to have had a chance to earn such a title.

This game will more about San Francisco than Washington. Purdy had his worst outing as a professional against Baltimore’s stout Defense. Kyle Shanahan abandoned the run despite the fact it was gashing the Ravens. The two Linebackers in the Ravens Defense are arguably the best duo in the League. Supposedly, the blueprint has been published about how to beat the ‘Niners. A team has to have the assets to execute it, however. Washington does not. The question coming in is whether Purdy, who has a recurring stinger, has been shaken by last Monday. Trent Williams is “Limited” in practice this week with an injured groin. If one is looking for rays of hope entering this game there they are. Whether that’s enough to spin a miracle upset is doubtful.

Oh, and Chase Young is coming back to town. He may have a good game against this struggling O-Line. Then again, he may just revert to his usual form by running wide and too deep thereby losing contain. It’s his specialty. Lamar Jackson made him pay for it repeatedly last week. Can Jacoby Brissett do the same?

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