In an unprecedented season, the foundation that John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have been building since 2017 has been crucial to their survival.
It was almost forgivable when the 49ers started the 2017 season with an 0-9 record given the roster that was in place when Lynch and Shanahan arrived. Of those nine losses, Brian Hoyer was the starting quarterback for six games, C.J. Beathard for three.
The 49ers finished 2017 with a 6-10 record having acquired Jimmy Garoppolo in a midseason trade with the New England Patriots. He won all five of his starts.
Four years later, after a 13-3 run to appear in Super Bowl LIV, the 49ers are once again nearing the end of a losing season. Heading into Week 17, the 49ers own a 6-9 record, which, for all intents and purposes, could be considered a miracle.
Not only has the roster been decimated by injuries, but the 49ers have also had to adjust to protocols for the pandemic. Many could argue that every NFL team has had to face those same obstacles, but no other franchise has been kicked out of its facility and had to relocate to another state.
The 49ers had to close shop and head to Arizona after Santa Clara County issued a non-contact sports ban on Nov. 28.
"It's been challenging,” Shanahan said on Monday. “It’s been the year, just one thing after another. I think that's just tough when you're talking to the team every day because the season's tough on those guys, physically and mentally, and you need juice added throughout the year to keep the body doing that.
“Every time we get a little bit of juice, it seems like two things are taken away. I think that's what's been the challenge. That’s why I've been real proud of the players and the way they've acted, the way they've handled themselves and that's why I'm truly not going to count this year as a negative. It wasn't fun.”
Shanahan believes that going through any challenge like his players have faced will only make them stronger and increase their bond with one another. It’s been a season of taking one step forward, and getting pushed two steps back.
After breaking a three-game losing streak with its 22-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals, the team returned to work on Monday to find out that Trent Williams and Brandon Aiyuk would miss the season finale against the Seattle Seahawks.
Shanahan says the news was on par for the 2020 season, but the players and staff have shown no sense of quitting.
Shanahan and Lynch have been very vocal about wanting to find and bring in players who love the game of football, something that's become even more important during the challenging season.
“It's huge,” Shanahan said. “I think it's everything. That's what I look for in coaches, too, and personnel staff, like everybody. If you don't love football, it's not always that fun. I always have felt if you don't have guys who are truly in it, because they are passionate about football, that it does something different to them, that it's kind of hard to live without.
"It's very hard to get the best out of people because you're going to go through times in the NFL, whether you're on your way to the Super Bowl or whether you're not making the playoffs, that are going to be very tough times. It's a lot easier, more fun sometimes to check out of them, but if football means the world to you and you enjoy it that much, those aren't things you're going to run from. That's usually what's going to bring the best out in you."
The team heads into its last game of the season with 15 players officially on injured reserve and another five players who have already been ruled out.