Can The 2020 49ers Make The Playoffs?
(originally written 12/10/20)
At a couple of points this 2020 season, the San Francisco 49ers seemed like their old selves in spite of the myriad crucial injuries they suffered. This team looked SO good at New England and SO good at the Giants that believing they were still destined for good things, decimated roster or not, didn't seem so ridiculous.
By good things, I mean a second straight playoff berth.
The team ended Week 7 with a 4-3 record, fresh off spanking New England on their home turf. "We're gonna be okay after all," I thought after witnessing said spanking.
So it figured that San Francisco would return from Week 11's bye on a three-game losing streak and still missing a whole lot of critical roster pieces, including superstar TE George Kittle, who was injured in the Week 8 loss at Seattle and still hasn't returned.
Not exactly the ideal setup for success, we can all agree.
But then the Niners beat the favored Rams on a last-minute Robbie Gould field goal. They stood at 5-6, and in this season of expanded playoffs, the Faithful was left with hope. If the 49ers could get to nine wins, and a couple of divisional rivals slipped...there just might be room for San Francisco at the postseason table.
(There's a number of fans who, after the aforementioned three-game skid dropped them to 4-6, felt the Niners should essentially tank and focus on a higher draft pick next year. I am not, nor will I ever be, one of them.)
It would take an extreme reversal of luck, true. But it was possible. Possible that Jimmy Garoppolo's ankle would heal and he'd be working his magic to Kittle just like "old times". Possible that once RB Raheem Mostert and CB Richard Sherman and WR Deebo Samuel and T Trent Williams got over their various ailments, coach Kyle Shanahan would get to work, play would improve and there'd be a string of Niner W's over these final weeks.
Despite losing DE Nick Bosa for the year in the season's fifth quarter, despite all the subsequent injuries and illnesses that permeated the roster, despite the fast starts of the Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams, reaching the playoffs remained an attainable goal for the 2020 49ers after Week 12...
49ers DE Kerry Hyder has filled some of the void left by Nick Bosa's absence; his 7.5 sacks are tied for 11th in the NFL this season.
...until the county intervened.
Of all the 32 teams in the NFL to essentially be banned by their home county—for at least three weeks—in an effort to curb COVID's spread, it had to happen to the San Francisco 49ers of Santa Clara County. Just at the point when the 49ers were, at long last, getting more good news than bad, the team was struck with indefinite homelessness.
Things like that are supposed to happen to hapless organizations like the Jets or the Lions. Not to an organization like San Francisco.
Fortunately, the Arizona Cardinals opened their home to the Niners, and for that we fans are surely grateful. But it still means SF could play the rest of the season on the road, even when at home.
As if the 2020 season hadn't already been stacked against us up to the Levi's Stadium scoreboard! Wasn't Black Sunday (Week 2 at the Jets) impediment enough? Or the New England game where dudes were getting carted off after SCORING TOUCHDOWNS? Did the COVID-19 outbreak during their bye week (11) not present sufficient obstacles—like almost no wide receivers—for this team?
In Week 13, the transplanted 49ers played their first home-away-from-home game against the Buffalo Bills, who have a lot of weapons and usually play to their capabilities. Buffalo decisively spanked the 49ers because, well, they have a lot of weapons and played to their capabilities.
As I said, at 5-6 with improving health and home games at Levi's Stadium, San Francisco still had a reasonable shot of heating up and winning ballgames. But at 5-7 with no real home, no Bosa, no return date for Garoppolo or Kittle, and the rest of the division looking down on them, San Francisco looks cooked for 2020—of their remaining games, Washington and Dallas are beatable, but if their early-season clashes with SF are any indication, Arizona and Seattle probably are not.
If the rumors are to be believed, we might have already seen the last of Garoppolo the 49er. If Sherman himself is to be believed, we're seeing his final weeks as a 49er. Obviously, this fan hopes both can somehow be retained; it would suck to see them go after injuries prevented them—and so many others—from fully participating in the 49ers' NFC Championship defense.
Honestly, after this cursed season, the football gods owe this presently-constructed San Francisco squad a year at something vaguely resembling full strength. That 2019 team was just too special to be one-and-done as a title contender.
After breaking through in 2019, 49ers RB Raheem Mostert has been limited by injuries to just six of a possible 12 games in 2020. Fellow backs Jeff Wilson and Tevin Coleman have also missed extended periods.