The 49ers taking the NFL by storm in 2019 was one thing. Backing it up in 2020 is a different challenge, as Steve Young pointed out to reporters.
The doubters and critics the San Francisco 49ers experienced for the opening half of 2019 shouldn’t have been too big a surprise. When the Niners started off the season 4-0, many of those pundits thought head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad hadn’t played anybody good. Or perhaps San Francisco merely got off to a hot start before an expected floundering.
Once the team started off 8-0 and remained the only undefeated team in the NFL, however, those critics were quickly silenced.
Going from a 4-12 squad the previous year to NFC champions the following season was one thing. Maintaining that continuity and level of prowess will be an entirely different challenge, and it’s an aspect Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young pointed out during an online event honoring the 49ers’ late legend, wide receiver Dwight Clark (h/t NBC Sports Bay Area):
Young described how shocking the league and seemingly coming out of nowhere could be an easy task. After all, the expectation levels were much lower than what actually happened, essentially meaning the Niners’ success was proverbially “playing with house money:”
"One of the easier hurdles is coming from behind. People aren’t really ready for you. You get good really fast, and you kind of run through the season and run the table. It almost happened last year. That’s the best kind of way to do it. Now comes the hard work, and if they can do it this year, you got to think that they can do it every year for four or five years."
In many ways, this was the feeling many San Francisco fans had for much of the year, too.
Going 8-0 over what was sometimes considered a relatively easy stretch of games perhaps convinced some the 49ers were mere pretenders. It was that brutal three-game stretch between Weeks 12 and 14 against the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints — all three double-digit playoff-bound squads — that would determine just how good the Niners were.
Turns out, San Francisco went 2-1 during that stretch and nearly won a tough road bout in Baltimore.
Now, however, no other team will be shocked by what head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. will want to do. In short, the 49ers’ opponents this year will be circling the dates on the calendar when they’re set to face off with the Niners.
And that’s something Young pointed out, too:
"There’s an extra level of challenge this year because the rest of the league now knows that they are the kings. They’re everybody’s homecoming game. Every game that they play will be the biggest game that other teams play.The challenge will be put out there."
Young, of course, knows what it’s like to back up one excellent season with another. Having joined San Francisco in 1987, Young then experienced a Super Bowl-winning squad the following year. That, in turn, was backed up by yet another Lombardi Trophy after 1989 and a near miss on a third consecutive Super Bowl chance in 1990.
Now, Young is hoping the Niners are able to back up what happened last year.
If so, at least in terms of his argument, Shanahan’s squad could have the mindset to be one of those perennial Super Bowl contenders for many years to come, putting 2020 into a crucial period on the franchise’s timetable.