There are a number of differences between the 2018 4-12 San Francisco 49ers and the 2019 13-3 San Francisco 49ers, but chemistry and attitude are not among them.
“…[W]e had it before we were winning, so I guess you’d have to talk to [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and [general manager] John [Lynch] about that, getting the right guys, that’s a big part of it, guys who care about football, guys who want to do everything they can to win, guys that are selfless, guys that are compassionate, guys that show humility to one another,” said cornerback Richard Sherman. “You know, it’s a lot of factors that they study on an individual level that make for a great team.”
Sherman is right. It’s a testament to Shanahan. It’s a testament to Lynch, the Pro Football Writer of America’s 2019 NFL Executive of the Year. It’s a testament to the guys on the team.
“It’s something you talk about a lot,” Shanahan said this week. “It’s your goal. But, you can’t just talk people into being that way. They’ve got to actually be that way. The guys are extremely competitive, everyone wants to help and contribute, but I think it has to do with our team really likes each other…Our team I feel like is as tight of a team I’ve been on and I think that’s what helps us in situations like that.”
In last week’s Divisional Round win over the Minnesota Vikings, corner Ahkello Witherspoon continued to struggle early in the game and was replaced by Emmanuel Moseley. The way he responded was indicative of the team as a whole.
“Guys are helping out every way they can,” Shanahan said. “…[F]or Ahkello to get replaced by Emmanuel early in that game, he handled it great. He went right up to [special teams coordinator Richard] Hightower…and was like ‘Hey, coach pulled me they’re going with E-Man, but I’m good. Make sure you give me all E-Man’s reps, everything he has on special teams. I want to do whatever I can to help. He needs his energy. You put me in on special teams.’ It’s just that type of attitude where you haven’t had to call many people in to say that. Our guys are just, they have a lot of love for each other all across the board.”
For Witherspoon, it’s an attitude that comes naturally.
“…[I]t’s something I do humbly from the grace of my heart and I believe that that type of commitment to your craft and respect for one another, it will be returned to you in life and that’s how I operate,” Witherspoon said. “…[T]hat’s the way I was raised in my household. You want to strive for your own personal desires, everything selfishly. You want to get what you want, but if it’s not your time, then you take the next best role, which is helping to commit for the greater good of the team…I think all the guys on this team have that concept, I think that’s the word. You talked about the quality by seeing the quality of the people in this locker room that also happen to play football…Kyle and John have done a great job weeding that out and finding those qualities in people and you see it just produce over and over again throughout the year.”
All-Pro tight end George Kittle is known as much for his elite blocking, as he is for his production running routes. And that’s how he likes it.
“It’s so unique, for a guy of his caliber in the pass game and all the amazing things that he does, that he loves the run game just as much,” said quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. “The O-Line feeds off that, the running backs, everybody. It’s contagious. It’s fun to be around that.”
When it comes to Garoppolo, more than one of his teammates believe he doesn’t get the credit he deserves as quarterback who is 20-5 as a starter and who finds a way to lead his team to victory almost every week.
“…When you talk about the defensive line, when you talk about the secondary, when you talk about the linebackers, we got depth,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “When you talk about the running game that we have, when you talk about the passing game, it’s hard to target one player and say, ‘Oh, he is the reason why they are winning,” and I think that that’s the reason why they don’t give Jimmy all the credit…but at the end of the day…he’s won, he’s a winner. The games that we weren’t running the ball where we had 34 yards, you’ll see Jimmy go out and throw five touchdown passes and 400 yards. So, I love that, that aspect that we can run the ball and pass the ball. So that’s kind of why he’s not getting that credit, but he is a baller and I’m happy he’s my quarterback for sure.”
For Garoppolo’s part, QB1 doesn’t need credit. He needs victories.
“As long as we win, I’m pretty happy,” Garoppolo said. “So as long as we win.”
Eye on the prize.
“It’s a huge part,” said left tackle Joe Staley who is in his 13th NFL season. “I think we talk about a lot of times, kind of as a cliché in the NFL, is it’s a family. This is a really, really close locker room. It really is special…[E]very year is different and this one is really special as far as the camaraderie in the locker room. Guys are showing up to play every single week, coming to work every single day and looking to get better. It’s a special bunch.”
That special bunch takes the field tomorrow at 6:40 pm ET/3:40 pm PT to take on the Green Bay Packers with the hopes of advancing to the Super Bowl.
“…Last week Kyle, he pretty much gave a speech to the team and sometimes in this league, you come to work and you clock in, you clock out, and truthfully, I enjoy being around these guys. The speech that Kyle gave was that there’s so much love between this team and how much we care about each other and I looked around, I looked at Deebo [Samuel], I looked at [Kendrick Bourne], I looked at the receiver corps; I said, ‘Man, I genuinely do love these guys.’ It’s a great group of guys to go to work with every day; a fun group of guys to go to work with. I feel like when you have that kind of chemistry, and it’s all throughout this team and all throughout this organization, I feel like when you have that, the sky is the limit. We’re not in this position – it’s not a coincidence, you know. We worked our butt off on the field and off the field and I feel like we are deserving of this moment and we got to take advantage of it.”