In advancing to the NFL’s elite eight, the 49ers have shown a lot about themselves over 18 games this season.
They have a certain panache, and an ability to keep things interesting -- whether they're playing with a lead or coming from behind.
“I think the Niners make for great TV,” 49ers tight end George Kittle said following the team’s latest narrow escape.
The 49ers will be prohibitive underdogs entering their NFC Divisional Playoff Game against the top-seeded Green Bay Packers. They will be up against one of the greatest quarterbacks in history, Aaron Rodgers, who is playing at the absolute top of his game.
We do not know how much longer this season will last, but the 49ers have shown that the ride will not stop here.
The future looks promising.
CEO Jed York declared years ago that his vision is for the 49ers to contend for championships every year. At various times this season, that goal was in serious jeopardy.
But even when the 49ers were 3-5, and everybody seemed more uptight than usual, the playoffs and their ultimate goal of a Super Bowl title remained possible — if not a tad unrealistic.
And here we are: The 49ers are, in fact, contenders.
Moreover, general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have placed the organization in a position to remain a factor in future seasons.
And if rookie quarterback Trey Lance is as good as they expect him to be, we’re talking about the 49ers being contenders for a long, long time.
The 49ers, it turns out, may actually know what they are doing when it comes to acquiring and developing young talent.
And that was not the prevailing thought for most of this season.
The organization places a great deal of emphasis on building the skills and professionalism of the players at the bottom half of their roster.
They have instituted a program called, “The Mine,” in which many of the younger, backup players get extra small-group instruction with members of the coaching staff.
The extra work paid off for cornerback Ambry Thomas, who put in the work to make dramatic strides behind the scenes.
When he got on the field, he was ready. Thomas helped the team at a position of need, and his confidence was such that he was able to quickly move past some early struggles and give the team a significant boost that was needed to earn a playoff spot and advance past the wild-card round of the playoffs.
The cornerback position got tons of attention through most of the regular season. Now, look at it. It is entirely possible the 49ers have their long-term starting cornerbacks already in place with Thomas and Emmanuel Moseley.
The cornerback positions are two spots where things have come into focus as the season progressed. The 49ers could re-sign veteran Jason Verrett, whose season ended with a torn ACL in Week 1. But Verrett could come back as an insurance policy, and not a player who is needed to be a lockdown corner.
Every position group is in good shape, with some diamonds emerging from the pressure of so many critical games down the stretch of the season.
Rookie running back Elijah Mitchell. How could he possibly show more toughness and talent?
Second-year player Brandon Aiyuk. The wide receiver opened his ears to Shanahan’s criticism, made some changes to his work habits, and has turned into a top-flight wideout.
Deebo Samuel. Geez, that guy.
Jauan Jennings. Geez, that guy.
Nick Bosa. He came back from a torn ACL of 2020, and could have/should have been a first-team All-Pro player, along with Samuel and left tackle Trent Williams.
Dre Greenlaw. Azeez Al-Shaair. Those are some big-time talents who give the 49ers a chance of extending their season, even if Fred Warner’s ankle prevents him from playing against the Packers.
The 49ers have built an amazing rotation of defensive linemen, and Lynch deserves credit for one under-the-radar move at the trade deadline to collect even more depth.
The decision to acquire Charles Omenihu from the Houston Texans paid off in a big way Sunday after Bosa was sidelined with a concussion.
Omenihu stepped in and played more snaps than ever. He responded with 1.5 sacks and three tackles. His big body contributed to the Cowboys’ inability to get any push with their running game.
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The 49ers have the grunt-work players who are required to make successful offensive and defensive lines.
They have the star power with players who get their hands on the football and give Shanahan plenty of options around whom to craft an opponent-specific game plan.
And the view from here is that things are set up nicely to be this way for a while.