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49ers: From Revenge Tour to Injury-Plagued Disaster

Matt Andruscavage
Nov 10, 2020 at 8:30 AM

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January of 2020 was a beautiful month. Following the incredible Week 17 victory over Seattle on December 29, 2019, the 49ers entered January with a 13-3 record and secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The all-important bye week allowed Kwon Alexander, Dee Ford and Jaquiski Tartt time to heal and come back for the postseason.

The 49ers then dismantled both the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers en route to another trip to the Super Bowl, something that defied the thoughts of many fans and analysts alike. Some called the 49ers "pretenders." Others just could not wrap their minds around the fact that the San Francisco 49ers had turned everything around by year three of the Kyle Shanahan/John Lynch era. The 49ers would now be competing in the Super Bowl against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Then came February 2, 2020. While there was no guarantee San Francisco would emerge as champions, it was an amazing ride watching this team put a successful season together with a chance to win the Super Bowl. After fighting their way to a 20-10 lead, Tarvarius Moore's fourth quarter interception seemed to seal up the win. All they had to do now was run out the clock. We all know what happened next. Despite the many areas we could all point a finger at, the truth is, if Emmanuel Moseley doesn't vacate his zone or if Nick Bosa was able to shed his "blocker" on that infamous third and fifteen, the game probably ends the way we all wanted it to.

But it didn't. It was another bitter defeat in the biggest of games and stung much like it did seven years ago. This past decade saw several bad teams and some good teams with unfulfilled Super Bowl expectations. The 2020 season would be the start of rectifying the bitter Super Bowl loss. The 2020 season would be the "Revenge Tour." Not just revenge for Super Bowl 54, but all of the difficult times since Super Bowl 29. The 1990s' and early 2000s' playoff losses. The awful teams and failed draft picks. The playoff defeats to the Giants, Ravens, Seahawks, and now the Chiefs. All of the bad play on the field and the mismanagement of the team from on and off over the last 25 years. Everything would wiped away with a victory in Super Bowl 55 and the "Revenge Tour" would be finished.

Instead we got a COVID-infested, injury-plagued cesspool of a season. Weston Richburg, Ronald Blair, and Julian Taylor would be sidelined until after Week 6, minimum, following their 2019 injuries. Deebo Samuel kicked things off (no pun intended) with a broken foot in June. Ben Garland was injured before Week 1, meaning the vital position of center would be played by a third stringer to start the season. This was just the beginning.

How we got here

Despite some players not being available for Week 1, there was every reason to believe the 49ers would begin the season with a victory over Arizona. Rookie Brandon Aiyuk would fill in for Samuel. Dee Ford was back. The defense would be at full strength with Jason Verrett on his own comeback tour. Jerick McKinnon would be the Jason Verrett of the offense, playing for the first time since 2017. Trent Taylor was back and healthy. Tight end Jordan Reed was added as another threat in the passing game.

Things started off well after Raheem Mostert took a short pass 76 yards to the house and got the 49ers off to a 10-0 start. The blowout was in sight. Jimmy Garoppolo was making quick, accurate throws early on. The defense was getting to Kyler Murray. Then, the blocked punt happened. Suddenly, the Cardinals were back in the game and the wheels began to fall off.

Next, George Kittle got hurt before halftime thanks to a high throw from Garoppolo that allowed the defender to hit Kittle in the lower leg. Despite maintaining a lead for most of the game, everything looked off. Kittle would not be targeted in the second half. The defense would give up big play after big play. The ground game couldn't get going. Jimmy Garoppolo would be extremely inconsistent and unable to lead the 49ers to a game-winning touchdown drive like he did in 2019, as the final pass was knocked down at the ten-yard line.

San Francisco looked out of sync, the injuries mounted, Jimmy Garoppolo took most of the heat as a quarterback who was unable to be that top five Fantasy Football draft pick, and the bottom line reality was the team started out 0-1. That was not the way the "Revenge Tour" was supposed to begin. But there was still a lot of hope. This was a hiccup.

Week 2 was a complete disaster despite a 31-13 drubbing of the New York Jets and Raheem Mostert scoring an 80-yard touchdown on the game's very first offensive play. Heading into the game, we found out that Dee Ford and Richard Sherman were heading to injured reserve. "That's ok, they will be gone for about three weeks and the 49ers have a soft schedule," said most fans and analysts. George Kittle would likely miss the next two games. No biggie.

After Mostert's scamper, it seemed the 49ers had already won the game. The rest was a formality. Garoppolo rebounded nicely, going 14-16 for 131 yards, throwing another two touchdowns, and posting another game with no interceptions. This was just the first half. Despite a 21-3 lead and being in full control, the 49ers ended up losing much more than the game. Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas each tore their ACLs on consecutive plays. Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a high ankle sprain. Tevin Coleman sprained his MCL, as did Raheem Mostert. Dre Greenlaw and Ahkello Witherspoon were also hurt.

This was becoming laughable. The turf on MetLife Field was blamed and to make matters worse, the 49ers, amazingly, would have to face the Giants the following week on this same field. San Francisco was 1-1, but again, it just had to weather this short storm and the "Revenge Tour" could gain steam.

The Giants game started off ugly. Many starters were out and Nick Mullens was not the savior quarterback who a number of people thought he was. It was an ugly first half, but things got better as San Francisco improved to 2-1 following the 36-9 thrashing of the Giants. Injuries continued to mount as Jordan Reed and Emmanuel Moseley were hurt. Jimmy Garoppolo would still be out the following week. It would be ok. The Eagles aren't very good, after all, and players like Sherman, Ford, Garoppolo, Kittle, Samuel and others would begin to return, allowing the tour to continue.

This is where the idea of revenge would begin to be in doubt. On Sunday Night Football, Nick Mullens would have the chance to improve the 49ers to 3-1. George Kittle was back. The Eagles would take an 8-0 lead and despite the 49ers taking a 14-8 lead, which included an amazing long touchdown run by Brandon Aiyuk, Philadelphia outplayed and outcoached Kyle Shanahan's Niners, resulting in a shocking 25-20 loss. Newly acquired Ezekiel Ansah was lost for the year with a biceps injury and the valuable and underrated K'Waun Williams suffered a knee injury. At 3-2, there was still a lot of hope with the Miami Dolphins coming to town. Everything still felt relatively fine as Jimmy Garoppolo would be back and the 49ers simply needed to get healthy. Next, the bottom fell out as the Dolphins took San Francisco completely apart 43-17 at Levi's Stadium. Kwon Alexander would play his last game in a 49ers uniform.

This injury-rattled mess of a season appeared to be over before it could ever get started. Next up were the Los Angeles Rams, who were a clear favorite. Jimmy Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert, and Emmanuel Moseley returned. This was Kyle Shanahan's best coaching day of the season. The defense was better with Moseley back in the lineup. Deebo Samuel played a big part in the game. Garoppolo looked much better. George Kittle had another big day. The offensive line completely dominated the line of scrimmage. San Francisco had knocked off the Rams 24-16 and things were looking up! Until they weren't.

Mostert hurt his ankle and would be placed on injured reserve. The reliable Ben Garland, who had done so well at filling in for Richburg at center, was placed on IR with a calf injury. Jaquiski Tartt injured his groin, Jimmie Ward hurt his quad, and now Sherman, Ford, Jullian Taylor, Blair, and Richburg all had setbacks. All of them. The bye week still seemed like it was a year away. The 49ers were 3-3, back in the race, but with the Patriots, Seahawks, Packers, and Saints all coming up, the Revenge Tour seemed more like a tour through a hospital with recovering players hoping to come back at some point.

Against New England the following week, Kyle Shanahan was at his best as the 49ers continued to attempt to salvage this season. Jeff Wilson Jr. had a career day with 17 carries for 112 yards and three touchdowns. Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel looked like the kind of duo we all wanted to see. JaMycal Hasty got some good looks and had 73 total yards on 10 touches. The 49ers ran the Patriots out of Gillette Stadium, 33-6. Would this be the week the 49ers could escape bad fortune? Not on your life. Wilson was carted off the field following his third touchdown and be out for at least a month. Deebo Samuel, of all people, suffered a hamstring injury. Great. It just never seemed to stop.

Surely, the 49ers would have another inspired performance left in them against the Seahawks in Week 8. Seattle's defense was among the worst in the league and it was banged up as well. K'Waun Williams would be back, as would Tevin Coleman. The game began well as the defense took care of business. Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers on two would-be successful drives that ended in a coaching blunder (the infamous wild-cat play on third down against a Cover-0) and an interception. Seattle would dominate, but San Francisco would finally be able to lick its wounds and not suffer further decimation, right? Oh, you would be wrong again! Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a potentially season-ending high ankle sprain. George Kittle broke a bone in his foot. Tevin Coleman went out almost as fast as he returned. Dante Pettis played his final play as a 49er, fumbling the kickoff and busting the game wide open. Things just got a lot worse.

Do you think the 49ers would be able to pick up the pieces, the few precious pieces they had left, in order to put forth a good effort against the Packers? You wish! Kendrick Bourne would test positive for COVID-19 and would take Trent Williams, Brandon Aiyuk, and Deebo Samuel with him to the reserve/COVID-19 list, despite all of these players testing negative the following day. With the game being played on a Thursday night, the NFL was not going to be willing to move this game, leaving the 49ers as shorthanded as any team could be heading into a game. The Packers made short work of the undermanned 49ers, 34-17, dropping the latter's record to 4-5, with no real end in sight.

For most, the season ended.

Where do the 49ers go from here?

It has been an up-and-down, roller coaster of a season with some good highs and about as low of lows as I've ever seen. The bye week is STILL not here. The season feels lost and it probably is. What is there to look ahead to?

Slim Playoff hopes

Yes, the 49ers are still in the playoff hunt, as hard as that is to believe. As improbable as it is, if the 49ers somehow manage to knock off the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, a 5-5 record heading into the bye is actually manageable. There are three Wild Card spots this season and it would take a 4-2 record after the bye week to have a chance. It is possible and there will be a slew of players coming back from injury, including Jimmy Garoppolo.

This scenario has a very low probability, but if the 49ers get back Garoppolo, Mostert, Coleman, Bourne, Wilson Jr., Deebo, Garland, Richburg, Sherman, Tartt, and Blair, this roster would have a chance to win late-season games and set itself up to be the kind of playoff opponent no one wants to face. And George Kittle would probably be able to return for the playoffs. (I'd love to add Dee Ford to this list, but at this point, it appears he won't recover this year from his neck injury, which is awful.)

Yes, yes, I know. It probably won't happen. It almost cannot happen. But this is a possibility. We'll see how it all ends up.

Preparing for 2021

This season has been a complete mess, in nearly every way. Injuries, COVID-19, players and coaches not meeting expectations, and a ton of bad luck have all but completely crashed this Revenge Tour. It's been about as frustrating of a season as I can remember and we're all probably doing a lot of laughing (and perhaps drinking) to forget the whole thing!

The 49ers did make a few moves before the trade deadline. Kwon Alexander was traded for a conditional fifth-round pick and Kiko Alonso. This is a good move as it unloads more cap money than what dead money will be left over and it allows the 49ers to get something for someone who likely would have been released when the season ends.

Defensive end Jordan Willis and a 2021 7th-round pick were acquired from the Jets for a 2022 6th-round pick. Willis notched his first sack against Green Bay.

Key unrestricted free agents include Trent Williams, Kyle Juszczyk, K'Waun Williams, Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Kerry Hyder, Jaquiski Tartt, Ben Garland, and Kendrick Bourne. D.J. Jones, Emmanuel Moseley, Marcel Harris, Daniel Brunskill, and Jeff Wilson lead the list of restricted free agents. The front office has a lot of decisions to make, including what to do with Jimmy Garoppolo.

Expect a few extensions before free agency and don't be surprised when Garoppolo is retained. There is no better option out there, at this point, who can come in and turn everything around. While it's an unpopular opinion right now, Jimmy Garoppolo remains a good quarterback who, when healthy, has a high ceiling. He has flaws, no doubt. Ball placement is an issue, as is consistency. That said, it's more likely than unlikely that Garoppolo comes back for the 2021 season.

Despite the suggestions by some that the Super Bowl window has been shut, this team has several good pieces in place and a front office that has dealt with adversity before. Is the Super Bowl window closed in 2020? Yes, almost 100% closed. The 49ers have too many problems that would likely prevent them from winning it this year, even if somehow they got to the playoffs. But in the coming years? Don't write them off yet. The Revenge Tour may be on hold for 2020, but it will be back on.

For now, the remainder of 2020 will likely be similar to 2017 and 2018 when we get to watch as the remaining available players audition for roster spots in 2021. We will get to see the possibility of emerging contributors and hopefully some exciting games as the 49ers will at least get to play the role of the spoiler.

While we will all pull for the Niners to achieve the impossible in 2020, it will be great to see this season in the rearview mirror if that doesn't happen. The 2021 season will hopefully be the start of far better days.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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