Kurtenbach: 49ers’ Shanahan, Garoppolo have lost the benefit of the doubt. Here’s how they get it back

The NFL is a league that’s defined by head coaches and quarterbacks.

There are other things involved, but they are ultimately ancillary. There are two men at the core of success or failure in this league.

So it’s hardly ideal that Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo have lost the benefit of the doubt.

Garoppolo wasn’t working with much of a reputation heading into his fifth season in the Bay Area, but five starts, a career-low in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and seven turnovers to six touchdowns has made it unquestionably clear: he’s no longer a serviceable starting quarterback.

At the same time, Shanahan has lost the wunderkind label that he brought with him to San Francisco and seemed all too apt after the Niners’ Super Bowl appearance following the 2019 season. Offensive genius? Is that what you would call the man calling the plays for an offense that’s been one of the NFL’s most anemic — fewer than 20 points per game — over the last five weeks?

Winning franchises win games. It sounds obvious, but this simple truth is often forgotten or overlooked.

No excuses, no cop-outs. In the immortal words of Raiders owner Al Davis (this will make Shanahan cringe): Just win, baby.

Under Shanahan, the 49ers have lost more games than they’ve won. He’s 31-39 in the regular season as a head coach — 33-40 if you include his one playoff trip. Yes, he righted the ship in Santa Clara after two one-and-done coaches, bringing much-needed stability, but he was tasked with also winning titles. So far, the Niners’ only on-field accomplishment under Shanahan is raising banners that only fly in the team’s locker room.

How can you view San Francisco as a winning organization?

No, the 49ers were a team on the rise that seems to have risen and is now falling.

San Francisco looks like a team heading towards a fourth losing season in Shanahan’s five years — their Super Bowl trip is the exception that proves the rule.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The good news for both men, and the organization, by proxy, is that there is a possible reprieve — a chance to change the narrative.

It comes courtesy of the parity-driven NFL.

I might feel that a different quarterback would win more games, but the league has provided whoever is under center with an incredible opportunity to put the 49ers back into the mix for the playoffs.

It’s really not that hard.

Not for a winning team, that is.

This year provides the 49ers with a longer season, a larger playoff field, and a fourth-place schedule.

For all the excuses and woe-is-me attitude coming out of Santa Clara, this situation is anything but dire.

The Niners are only one game back of the 3-3 Vikings for the final playoff spot in the NFC.

And wouldn’t fate have it that they’ll play the Vikings in Week 12.

They’ll also get a crack against the Falcons, another team that’s right on the bubble and ahead of the Niners in the standings. That comes Week 15.

This week, they’ll play a Bears team that’s one game better than them in the standings but is in all sorts of disarray. Their rookie quarterback is floundering behind one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines, their head coach is out with COVID, and their best player — Khalil Mack — might not even play Sunday.

Just one win in Chicago. A solitary victory against a team that they should beat, and this season looks different, even if it won’t ultimately go anywhere because neither Garoppolo nor rookie quarterback Trey Lance is going to do anything in the playoffs.

One win can start the process of restoring reputations for Shanahan and Garoppolo.

Two in a row — the Niners play the Cardinals in Week 9 — and this team’s struggles and four-game losing streak will be swiftly forgotten.

We can talk about Shanahan and Garoppolo like guys who know what they’re doing, or, more succinctly, guys who can win games.

We can go back to presuming that the 49ers are an operation that knows what it’s doing.

Remember in the preseason when that was the case? Simpler times, indeed.

It’s only fitting that the halfway mark of a 17-game season is proving to be a crossroads moment for this administration: When we find out if the Niners can or cannot — in a context that’s larger than just this campaign.

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