The injuries started early for the 49ers in 2020, and the onslaught of players with different ailments missing various amounts of time hasn’t stopped with the club now halfway through its 16-game season.
Injuries to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle that could keep both players out for most, if not all, of the regular season appear to put an exclamation point on a loudly disappointing 2020 campaign for the defending NFC champions.
We saw them overcome a number of significant injuries to pull to 4-3 after a 2-3 start that included a 43-17 loss at home to the Miami Dolphins. That felt like rock bottom, and they looked to have put their early-season woes behind them with back-to-back wins over Rams and Patriots in Weeks 6 and 7. The 49ers were rolling again, and it looked like better health was on the horizon.
Then Week 8 in Seattle came. A 49ers offense that seemed to be turning a corner was overwhelmed by an historically terrible Seahawks defense. Tevin Coleman, recently activated off Injured Reserve, left the game early because he re-aggravated the knee injury that sidelined him for five weeks. Then Garoppolo left the game with a limp in the fourth quarter after getting sacked for a third time. One drive later it was Kittle limping off after a 25-yard reception with his team trailing 30-7.
San Francisco made the final score look respectable at 37-27, but the damage was done. They looked like a team that wasn’t going to hang with the NFC’s best. Then they lost their starting quarterback and their best offensive player and an already distant shot at the playoffs now appears nonexistent.
How a team finishes its final eight games is impossible to know. What we can do is look at the fact that none of the 49ers’ top five offensive players from last season according to Pro Football Focus will play in Week 9, and three of those five will likely be out until after the Bye week and beyond. A fourth is the retired Joe Staley. Three of their top five defenders from last year are in the same boat, including Richard Sherman and Nick Bosa.
Maybe they turn things around with Nick Mullens at the helm. Perhaps they upset the Green Bay Packers in Week 9, get healthier going into Week 10 at the Saints and regroup during a Week 11 Bye. That option is definitely on the table, but in the way that the NFC East winner’s Super Bowl chances are on the table.
It’s bleak for San Francisco. Super Bowl hangovers exist for both winners and losers of the NFL’s championship game. There’s a reason only three teams have ever lost and then won it the following year, and just eight teams have gone back the year after losing.
The difficult part is there’s not a talent deficiency or some fault in the coaching staff. That’s not to take all of the onus off the players and coaches for a 4-4 start and what’s likely to be a sorely disappointing finish, but ultimately an injury wave of this magnitude eventually becomes overwhelming and treading water they way they did through the first seven weeks only works for so long.
The 49ers were aiming to get healthier after getting back over the .500 mark. Instead they went the opposite direction about as rapidly as possible. They’re sitting at 4-4 through eight games, and it’ll take something of a miracle for them to finish in the top seven in the NFC.
It isn’t a disappointment necessarily that the reigning conference champions started out the way they did. The disappointment because the odds are stacked against them getting a chance at finishing stronger than they began.