San Francisco 49ers overcome offseason narrative


The San Francisco 49ers ended a thrilling first week of the NFL season with perhaps the biggest shocking result — a crushing 20-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Given a complete overhaul of the 49ers and the expectations for the Vikings’ offense, the players that remained in San Francisco should feel vindicated after such a surprising win.

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Everybody spelled doom and gloom for the 49ers in 2015, and rightly so. A year-long soap opera between Jim Harbaugh and ownership that leaked out from the organization ultimately resulted in the coach’s “mutual parting.” Leadership went out the door with Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, and Frank Gore all leaving. It was a pipe dream to believe this team could even hit their 8-8 mark from last season.

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If somebody didn’t follow San Francisco off the field and just fast forwarded from the 2014 season finale against the Arizona Cardinals to Monday night’s season opener against the Vikings, they wouldn’t have noticed a difference. Instead of disaster, the 49ers gave everybody a show that nobody expected in the first game of the season — and hope.

Carlos Hyde looked like a Hall of Fame running back in the team’s new zone-stretch offense. NaVorro Bowman looks more than ready to fill in the leadership role on defense. Considering the expectations, you couldn’t leave without being impressed by the team in the alternate black uniforms at Levi’s Stadium.

However, it’s easy for everybody to get carried away after such a thrilling win while pain was predicted throughout 2015. A dominant second half made us all forget about a first half that made hearing nails on a chalkboard enjoyable. The 49ers looked good offensively in the first drive, but it ended in a field goal attempt that was blocked. The prized possession of the offseason, Jarryd Hayne, botched his very first punt return.

Nobody was able to get a rhythm offensively on either side of the ball. Let’s not forget that the 49ers were aided on a badly missed pass interference call on Antoine Bethea in the endzone during the first half and a bad holding call on Vikings CB Terence Newman that kept San Francisco’s drive to their first field goal make alive.

Colin Kaepernick looked better at times in the pocket, but still struggled to deliver the short pass consistently. Most notably, a 3rd-and-5 in that first field goal drive which fell short to Anquan Boldin. But how comfortable he looked in the game-clinching touchdown drive is promising.

Sep 14, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) celebrates with fans after scoring on a 10-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Levi

However, much of the improved offense was thanks to Hyde zigzagging through the Vikings defense for 168 yards and two touchdowns.

This is why Gore wasn’t considered as big of a loss compared to other key players. His presence would be missed, but if the offense could implement Hyde’s quick cuts and open things up for him, the running game should be solid. It’s as if Hyde was back in the Ohio State backfield.

This shouldn’t be the measuring stick for Hyde. While he had an incredible night, it was against a defense that ranked 25th in run defense last season.

What the bigger shock should be is how the 49ers’ defense looked just as strong under Eric Mangini as it did with Vic Fangio, and it shut down a Vikings offense that had a lot of promise coming into this season with a rejuvenated Adrian Peterson.

It’s hard to give any joy to the ownership after the destruction of this team was akin to throwing a snowball into hell, but you can certainly feel great for the players that remained and wanted to prove doubters wrong. Expectations should still be tempered.

The 49ers have to go through a brutal NFC West that sees much-improved St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals squads that could unseat the Seattle Seahawks at the top. Four matchups in a balanced AFC North begins with a tough road trip to Pittsburgh next Sunday.

San Francisco may still not make the postseason, but the rebuilding won’t be nearly as bad because the talent that remained on the team didn’t cave in to the offseason narrative of doom. That character indeed puts them ahead of schedule, and it will be exciting to see how far it will take them.

Next: San Francisco 49ers: NaVorro Bowman ignites hope this season

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