Now We Know Why It’s Been Super Bowl Or Bust For The 49ers
SANTA CLARA, Calif. â€” They knew it long before we did.
As far back as training camp.
As early as OTAs.
There was something special here.
Something that potentially could shock the world.
â€œThey donâ€™t understand,â€Â Richard ShermanÂ explained to Yahoo Sports. â€œBut we understand what we have.â€
Long before anyone believed in their dominance,Â theÂ San Francisco 49ersÂ quietly set their sights on the Super Bowl. Back in the summer. Back when few even gave them a fighting chance in their own division. So on Sunday night, in the aftermath of their most commanding performance of the season against a longtime foe â€” and against one of the gameâ€™s greatest quarterbacks â€” there was no bombastic trash talk or raucous postgame celebrations. There simply was a quiet confidence filtering through the 49ers locker room, and the clear understanding that the end result â€”Â a 37-8 victory over Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay PackersÂ â€” was no fluke, but rather the expected outcome on the path to their ultimate end goal.
â€œBefore OTAs even happened, I had a feeling we were going to be good,â€ 49ers safetyÂ Jimmie WardÂ said, in a near-empty locker room. â€œI just knew weâ€™d be great. I knew what we had on offense. I knew weâ€™d be great on defense. And defense wins championships.â€
If you were surprised that the 49ers (10-1) â€” led byÂ Fred WarnerÂ (11 tackles, a sack and forced fumble),Â Arik ArmsteadÂ (two sacks),Â Nick BosaÂ (a fumble recovery) and the rest of their relentless defensive front â€” were able to manhandle Rodgers and the Packers in prime time, you havenâ€™t been paying attention.
But they made their strongest statement to date against a future Hall of Famer.
Rodgers completed 20 of 33 passes for only 104 yards, the fewest in any of his career starts with at least 30 passing attempts. He also was sacked five times and finished the game with a woeful 75.8 rating.
The 49ersâ€™ defense was so dominant, so unrelenting, that Rodgers was forced to watch the remaining 4:58 from the safety of his own sideline.
â€œWhen we stop them on first and second down, and we get to rush the quarterback on third down, you see what the result is,â€ said Warner, who jumpstarted the attack when he strip-sacked Rodgers on Green Bayâ€™s opening drive. One play after Bosa recovered the fumble, teammateÂ Tevin ColemanÂ ran the ball in for a 2-yard score giving San Francisco a lead it would not relinquish.
The Packers (8-3) were lifeless on offense, save for Rodgersâ€™ 2-yard touchdown pass and two-point conversion throw (both to Davante Adams) in the third quarter. Meanwhile, their defense was so disjointed that it surrendered a 61-yard touchdown to 49ers tight endÂ George KittleÂ â€” who scampered untouched into the end zone on one good leg â€” and a 42-yarder to rookie receiver Deebo Samuel.
Depsite the lead, the 49ersâ€™ defense wouldnâ€™t let up. Not with the looming threat of Rodgersâ€™ wizardry.
â€œYou play him hard until he stops playing,â€ Sherman said. â€œAny time you playing a Hall of Famer like that, you never feel like, â€˜Oh, my God, heâ€™s rattled.â€™ Because thatâ€™s what makes them Hall of Famers. At any moment, they can wake up and they can go off.â€
But Rodgers never rebounded. Instead, it wasÂ Jimmy GaroppoloÂ who put on the show with the world watching.
If there is a weakness to be found with these physical 49ers, itâ€™s their inconsistent and unproven quarterback. But underneath the bright lights and the weight of prime-time expectations, Garoppolo finished with his highest rating of his career â€” 145.8 â€” on 14-of-20 passing for 253 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
After the gameÂ Sherman expressed his frustration with those who continue to criticize Garoppolo for being the so-called weak link on the team. â€œItâ€™s like youâ€™re nitpicking at the point,â€ Sherman told Yahoo Sports. â€œAaron has earned the right. Heâ€™s a Hall of Famer, heâ€™s a gold jacket-wearer, heâ€™s a walking legend. Jimmy hasnâ€™t technically earned the right. He hasnâ€™t played enough games, so you can respect that. But the thing I donâ€™t appreciate is that way people overly criticize him. Theyâ€™ll say, â€˜Oh, my God, they ran for 250, they must have a bad quarterback.â€™ But itâ€™s like, maybe the run game was just dominant and youâ€™re running for 250, so why throw it? If he throws a good game, then itâ€™s like, â€˜Oh, it was Arizona.â€™ The goalpost is constantly moving. I can appreciate being good enough that they have to make excuses for why youâ€™re good.â€
Sherman would go on to defend his teammate at the podium, telling reporters: â€œJimmy Garoppolo is our leader and we will follow him into the darkest of dark. Weâ€™ll follow him into a dark alley, and I guarantee you, you wonâ€™t touch him.â€
With his father, Mike, watching from a luxury suite at Leviâ€™s Stadium, Kyle Shanahan outcoached his friend and former pupil, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. And, as a result, the 49ers have started the season 10-1 for the first time since 1997. But some believe the real test for this team is just beginning.
Now We Know Why It’s Been Super Bowl Or Bust For The 49ers
The so-called â€œgauntletâ€ that began with Sunday nightâ€™s showdown against the Packers, ends with road games at Baltimore and New Orleans. But the 49ers stressed the importance of never underestimating their opponents. â€œWould most people say Arizona is tougher than Green Bay?â€ Sherman asked. â€œNo. But they played us much tougher than this team played us. Sometimes itâ€™s just matchups. Sometimes itâ€™s just, they had a good day. Sometimes you just know your opponent so well because itâ€™s a division game. So it really doesnâ€™t change anything for us.â€
That said, San Franciscoâ€™s defense has the unenviable challenge of containingÂ Lamar Jackson, the leagueâ€™s most electrifying quarterback and potential MVP. But even on the heels of their most impressive performance to date, the 49ers have fully embraced the underdog role.
â€œHopefully they just keep sleeping on us,â€ Ward told Yahoo Sports. â€œHopefully they think weâ€™re going to lose to Baltimore and the Saints. Thatâ€™s cool. All the critics and stuff, that makes the game more exciting.â€
Itâ€™s OK if the rest of the world doesnâ€™t see what they see.
The 49ers believe they know better.
In the offseason, they saw the makings of a great team. And, thus far, nothing has shaken their resolve.
â€œIt sounded crazy then, but it doesnâ€™t sound as crazy now,â€ Sherman said. â€œIn training camp, guys were saying Super Bowl or bust because we knew the talent that we had. â€¦ But itâ€™s not going to sound as wild now.â€