49ers' rollercoaster season manifested run to NFC title game

/ by Matt Maiocco
Presented By Toyota

The four-game losing streak and 3-5 record nearly killed the 49ers.

Instead, it made them stronger.

It could have happened only this way for the NFC Championship Game-bound 49ers.

The 49ers' improbable 13-10 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night was the latest in a string of crazy victories, rendering all those regular-season stumbles meaningless.

But, no, those losses and adversity served a purpose this season.

Ultimately, it was a good thing for the 49ers that they blew that late lead to the Packers in Week 3.

Two losses apiece to the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks looked to be insurmountable for the 49ers to continue playing football beyond the regular season. They needed those games.

The ugly loss to Indianapolis, the heartbreaking loss to the Tennessee Titans, every setback along the way had a purpose in what we see now — a team that has advanced to the NFL’s final four.

The 49ers would not have made it this far without experiencing everything, all the ups and downs of coach Kyle Shanahan’s most challenging of his five seasons with the 49ers.

“I always try to say that you don’t label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ You just want to learn from some things that you think are bad that can make you good later,” Shanahan said.

“Right now, it’s looking pretty good because some of the stuff we went through this year that I don’t ever want to happen, but I think that’s made who we are and that’s why we’re the team we are right now, and that’s why we’re still standing.”

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Shanahan and general manager John Lynch were hired together five years ago to join forces for a complete reboot of the organization. They have delivered in ways nobody could have expected.

They made mistakes along the way. But they learned from them.

Early on, the 49ers brought in players that would have been out of place with this team. But they found something that worked when they ultimately started focusing on acquiring players who exude passion and toughness.

The mindset of a large percentage of the roster is the reason the 49ers were able to overcome the struggles throughout the season.

“You can’t coach guys to not get discouraged,” Shanahan said. “You try to get the right people and try to work through stuff, you try to not overreact and use everything as a teaching moment.”

Those teaching moments contributed to the 49ers’ ability to pull out scintillating win-or-the-end road victories in successive weeks over the Los Angeles Rams, Dallas Cowboys and the Packers. 

Nobody seems to bounce back from adversity as well as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who made up for his mistakes in each of those games with stellar end-of-the-game plays when there was no margin for error.

“We’ve got guys who make plays in key situations down the stretch when it really matters and that’s what makes for a good football team,” 49ers quarterback Garoppolo said. “It’s never going to be pretty, but we find a way.”

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