Kurtenbach: Will the real 49ers please stand up?!?

In this age of misinformation, it’s so difficult to discern what’s real and what’s fake.

That’s certainly the case when it comes to the San Francisco 49ers.

Kyle Shanahan enters his fifth year as the 49ers head coach with a sub-.500 record and is looking for his second winning season.

And yet, the 49ers are considered serious contenders to go to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.

It’s a strange juxtaposition, no doubt. It’s enough to make you question everything.

So what’s real and what’s fake? I wish I could tell you the answer ahead of time — we’d all get rich together.

But what I can say is that this season will remove a great deal of the ambiguity around the Niners.

You’re either a Super Bowl contender or a team that is consistently drafting early in the spring.  You can’t be both. And these are defining days for the Shanahan administration.

Win, and last season’s ill-fated “Revenge Tour” will be forgotten. Lose, and questions about the Niners’ trajectory that were buried by the team’s 2019 run will be unearthed.

Now I’m not saying that Shanahan is on the hot seat. Not yet, at least. But how the Niners play this season will set the tone for the rest of his tenure in charge.

This is a team that is talented, experienced, and out of excuses. It’s time to put up or shut up.

Every team deals with injuries. Good teams overcome them, like the 2019 Niners.

And quarterback play? Well, that cannot be an Achilles’ heel for a fourth season out of Shanahan’s five — not with the return of Jimmy Garoppolo and the selection of Trey Lance with the No. 3 overall pick (a selection that required the 49ers to sell two other first-round selections).

It won’t be easy for the Niners. Even if they put it all together, they play in the toughest division in football, the NFC West. And their rivals upgraded their rosters.

The Rams punted former No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff all the way to Detroit and picked up Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Stafford, beating out the Niners in the race to get him. Kyler Murray and the Cardinals are improved, too.  Arizona will put up points, but the addition of back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt to a defense that came on strong in the latter part of the season makes the Cardinals formidable.

And then there’s the Seahawks — the bane of the 49ers’ existence. Somehow, someway, Russell Wilson and Seattle will find a way to be in the mix for the division lead come December. It won’t make any sense — the Seahawks have never played a normal game with Wilson at the helm — but it will happen.

Win the West, and the rest of the conference should be a piece of cake — just like in 2019.

If only it were that easy.

Not only do the Niners have to combat strong opponents — they also have to navigate who is going to play at quarterback. Now, QB questions are the kinds that few teams ask on their way to the postseason, but with Garoppolo’s lack of reliability when it comes to injuries and execution, Shanahan felt it best to find his quarterback of the future a bit early. Will expedited delivery be a justified cost or an unnecessary surcharge?  That depends on if Garoppolo is truly a top-flight starting quarter back and if Lance has the poise and talent to be an immediate contributor, should he get the chance. It’s been a long time since a training camp and preseason schedule carried so much weight in Santa Clara.

Perhaps it all clicks. Maybe the return of defensive end Nick Bosa takes a good Niners defense from last season and makes it fearsome once again.

Maybe a full season of George Kittle mixed with a dangerous ground game and improved quarterback play from either an inspired Garoppolo or the uber-talented Lance helps the Niners’ offense return to its 2019  success.

There’s absolutely no reason that the 49ers cannot go to the Super Bowl this season.

But we said that last season, too.

There’s no question now that Shanahan’s honeymoon is over. The intoxication of the 2019 season has worn away.

Shanahan’s turnaround of the Niners’ organization was needed and unquestionably impressive. The standard hasn’t changed. Around these parts, it’s about winning Super Bowls, not making them.

There isn’t a Lombardi Trophy from 2019 in the cabinet at 4949, only the George Halas Trophy, and as nice as that might be, it doesn’t carry enough clout for two seasons.

It’s not playoffs or bust for Shanahan’s Niners this season. Instead consider it “playoffs or tough,” as in tough conversations will need to happen if San Francisco doesn’t play an 18th game in this, the first season with 17 regular-season games.

It doesn’t matter how the Niners get there. Offense, defense, rookie quarterback or veteran —  it’s time for results.

© 2021 KFMF-FM. Internet Development by Frankly Media.