A week ago all the talk surrounding the 49ers was about Nick Mullens' fantastic showing against the New York Giants and if the 49ers really needed Jimmy Garoppolo to win. Hell, there was even talk that Mullens was the better quarterback.
Now that the faux quarterback controversy can be put to bed, the 49ers can focus on the real, glaring issue at hand. Through four weeks, they sit at 2-2 in the bottom of the NFC West. Their defensive line is ravaged by injuries, Garoppolo still is nursing a high ankle sprain and they are about to be tested the way few teams have been in NFL history.
The 49ers will face the 1-3 Miami Dolphins next Sunday in what should be an easy way to get back above water at 3-2. Then, things get hard and just keep getting harder.
After the Dolphins, the 49ers face a seven-game stretch that will see them face six of the NFL's best in a row, with the Los Angeles Rams appearing twice on the schedule. They'll face the Rams, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Rams and Buffalo Bills in succession, hoping to enter December with any sort of room to breathe.
Those six teams are a combined 18-4 before Monday night's games. The Rams are resurgent, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Josh Allen are probably the top three MVP candidates at the moment, and the Patriots and Saints won't be any sort of pushover.
That's why Sunday night's loss to an Eagles team with a couple of janitors at wide receiver was so dreadful. And why the 49ers need Garoppolo back and in midseason form with all haste.
No, they don't need Garoppolo to beat the Dolphins and head coach Kyle Shanahan has said he isn't sure yet if Garoppolo will be ready to return in Week 5. But the 49ers would undoubtedly prefer to use the game against the Dolphins to get Garoppolo's feet wet so that his return doesn't come at the start of their gauntlet.
If Garoppolo misses Week 5, it will have been a month since he took a snap in an NFL game. Given the rust he showed during the 49ers' Week 1 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers would like some of the misses that are bound to come as he settles back in to come against a bad Dolphins team and not a division rival who is looking to reassert its dominance atop the division.
When the schedule came out, it looked like the 49ers would at worst be 4-1 heading into their season-defining stretch. Injuries have complicated the matter, and a horrific loss to the Eagles has put the 49ers behind the Eightball early.
The 49ers have issues at a number of places. There are issues on the offensive line. Trent Williams had his first bad game Sunday night and Mike McGlinchey has been exposed. The defense still has some playmakers, but the loss of Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas has put more pressure on the linebackers and a banged-up secondary.
Their offensive skill group still isn't whole with Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman possibly out for a few more weeks. Sunday was the first game the 49ers played with George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel on the field. That threesome, when healthy, is among the best arsenals in the league.
But they need a competent trigger man to get them the ball and pilot Shanahan's attack at the highest level.
Garoppolo has his warts. I'm not going to sit here and tell you he's the guy who is going to come back, flash a smile and make all the pain go away. He'll make mistakes. He remains a mid-tier quarterback. But he's one Shanahan can rely on to execute the offense at a high level and one who can look great in a system that accentuates his strengths and hides his deficiencies.
The 49ers will only get through the upcoming gauntlet still breathing if Garoppolo is healthy and in midseason form.
He needs to exit the tunnel in Week 6 rust-free and primed to do all that is necessary to get the 49ers through a maze of contenders and to December with a playoff pulse still registering.
Garoppolo (and Shanahan) now are all that stand between the 49ers and their Super Bowl revenge hopes fading with a whimper before the calendar hits December.