Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

2021 49ers need to learn how to finish...and start

Sep 27, 2021 at 12:46 PM--

We are three weeks into the San Francisco 49ers' 2021 season, and while we have seen a lot of good things (like a game-winning touchdown drive to seemingly beat the Packers), we have also seen some not-so-good things (like letting the Packers win the game in 37 seconds, with no timeouts). It was the ultimate "thrill of victory and agony of defeat" all jam-packed into half a minute, as the 49ers lost 30-28 at Levi's Stadium.

Even through the first two games, there were signs that something wasn't quite right. Wins are hard to come by in the NFL, so anytime you walk away with a win, you have to be happy with it. But it was apparent, even in the wins, that the 49ers had things to work on (as all teams do). They were, at best, off to a slow start, and at worst, an immature team that still has a long way to go before contending for a Super Bowl.

The season is still young, and there's plenty of time to believe a team this talented and well-coached can turn things around. But let's take a look at some of the evidence that has me a little concerned, and leads me to believe the 49ers still need to learn how to finish...and start.

Exhibit A (Week One in Detroit - almost giving up a large lead)

On opening day in Detroit, the 49ers jumped out to an early lead. For three and a half quarters, they were embarrassing the Lions. Then some injuries, coupled with the coaches pulling some starters out of the game, and a few mistakes, allowed the Lions to come storming back. The 49ers won the game 41-33, but they had to hold on at the end.

Yes, it was a little fluky. There was the onside kick that George Kittle couldn't hold on to. There was the "game-clinching" first down conversion that Deebo Samuel fumbled away. It was a strange couple of minutes.

That following week, Steve Young went on KNBR and was asked what it told him that the team almost gave up such a large lead. Young answered, "It's a sign of immaturity, where a coach pulls players out and the team kind of responds, in kind, and you kind of fade. But I can totally expect that now, with the way that teams are put together and how little time you have. I would expect more for the 49ers because of the locker room they have, and that kind of thing, but that'll be a lesson. But anytime I was on a team, and we got a big lead and they pulled people out, and everyone faded, it was a sign of immaturity."

He added, "That would be what I would say to the team, if I had a chance to go talk to them right now, 'take that as a sign that we're not put together yet.'"

Young did note that what happened in Week One wasn't a big deal. But he did suggest the team needs to be honest about it, look to work on what needs to be improved, and realize that it still has things that need to be, in his words, "buttoned up." I would say that still rings true after Week Three.

Exhibit B (Week Two in Philadelphia - starting slow)

In Week Two, the 49ers traveled to play the Eagles. They opened the game with three straight three-and-outs (that's bad), while the Eagles marched up and down the field. Neither the offense nor the defense started out well. They were being dominated in the trenches the same way they had destroyed the Lions the week before. But miraculously, at halftime, they had a 7-3 lead. They scored ten more points in the final quarter, while holding the Eagles to only eight more, winning the game 17-11.

They showed a lot of guts, a lot of character coming from behind, after being dominated like they were, to actually win their second straight game on the road. But the slow start was not just a one-time thing. It would show its ugly face again.

Exhibit C (Week Three in Santa Clara - starting slow...and giving up the lead)

For the second week in a row, the 49ers started slow. This time against a quarterback you can't start slow against - Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams carved up the 49ers defense most of the night. Twice the Packers had a two-score lead, with the ball, and looked like it was about to get ugly. But just like they had the week before, the 49ers came roaring back to life, sparked by a great kickoff return by Trenton Cannon.

By halftime, the 49ers had cut the lead to ten. The 49ers took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove right down the field on a 13-play, 83-yard drive that took 7:49 off the clock. They scored a touchdown to cut the lead to three.

For most of the second half, they flirted with taking the lead and getting blown out. It always seemed like one of those options was possible.

In the end, they drove down to take a late lead. It looked like they may go to 3-0, escaping defeat just as they had the week before.

But they left Rodgers too much time. Green Bay was able to move into field goal range, where Mason Crosby kicked the game-winner to send the 49ers to 2-1.

Say what you will, blame who you may. There were bad decisions and bad executions on both sides of the ball. They won the first two as a team. They lost this one as a team. And through three games, it's apparent they have plenty to work on. As Young said, they lack maturity, and aren't "put together yet."

Yes, there have been injuries, leading to a lot of young players being forced into the lineup. But this is where they are, needing to learn how to finish...and how to start. And they better learn quickly. Up next is a guy who's made a career knowing how to finish: Russell Wilson.
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