49ers

Panthers to start Kyle Allen at QB, not Cam Newton, vs. 49ers in Week 8

Panthers to start Kyle Allen at QB, not Cam Newton, vs. 49ers in Week 8

The 6-0 49ers have had the NFL's easiest schedule to date, with their six opponents combining for an 11-28 record.

Among those six teams that have fallen on the sword of Kyle Shanahan's club, the 49ers have faced quarterbacks Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, Mason Rudolph, Baker Mayfield, Jared Goff and Case Keenum. Of those six quarterbacks, only Mayfield and Goff have long-term futures in the NFL. Winston is on the fast track out of Tampa Bay, Dalton is on his last leg in Cincinnati, Rudolph is an unproven commodity and Keenum is ... well, Keenum.

The 49ers' opposing quarterback gauntlet won't get much tougher in Week 8 when the Carolina Panthers come to Levi's Stadium.

Cam Newton has been out since Week 2 with a foot injury. Kyle Allen has led the Panthers to four straight wins, and even though Newton has been on the mend, head coach Ron Rivera announced Monday that Allen will start Sunday against the Niners while Newton "works with the trainers."

The Texas A&M product has thrown for 901 yards and seven touchdowns so far this season, leading the Panthers to wins over the Texans, Jaguars, Buccaneers and Cardinals in that span. Allen has played well in Newton's absence, not turning the ball over and letting Carolina's run game, spearheaded by Christian McCaffrey, inflict damage on their opponents.

[RELATED: 49ers, Raiders stand pat in NFL power rankings]

The 49ers' defensive line has terrorized the opposition so far this season. Through six games, the 49ers are holding opponents to 10.7 points and 223.5 yards per game, and it's unlikely they'll allow McCaffrey to beat them. 

If the Panthers plan to leave the Bay Area with a win, it'll be up to Allen's right shoulder and his line's ability to keep Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Co. off his back. 

Easier said than done.

Why Stephen A. Smith is wrong about George Kittle and Travis Kelce

Why Stephen A. Smith is wrong about George Kittle and Travis Kelce

When it comes to identifying the best tight end in the NFL, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith is definitely in the minority.

The consensus of more than 50 league executives, coaches and scouts is that 49ers tight end George Kittle is the best player in the league at his position.

Kittle's own peers recently ranked him as not only the best tight end in the NFL, but the No. 7 overall player in the league.

Pro Football Focus didn't simply grade Kittle as the NFL's top tight end last season; he was their highest-graded player overall at any position.

And yet, Smith vehemently -- and incorrectly -- believes Travis Kelce, not Kittle, is the best tight end in the league (via 49ers Web Zone.)

"He has had about four or five (it's four) consecutive 1,000-plus-yard seasons," Smith said of the Kansas City Chiefs tight end Wednesday on "First Take." "He's good for at least 85 receptions a season. I think last year he had about 97 for 1,200 (yards) and change. Travis Kelce's the real deal as far as I'm concerned.

"When you look at Kittle's blocking ... definitely deserves a lot of credit in that regard, but outside of that, I don't see anything that he's bringing to the table that Travis Kelce can't bring or hasn't brought over the last several years, and there's something to say about your resume. I think Travis Kelce is that dude. I think he's the best tight end in football."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Kelce is a phenomenal player, to be sure. The 49ers witnessed it firsthand in Super Bowl LIV. But despite Smith going on to tout him as a "model of consistency" in arguing his superiority over Kittle, the question wasn't who has been the best tight end over the last several years. It was who's the best right now, and there's a reason why the vast majority of people in the know have given Kittle as their answer.

While Kelce probably has an advantage in terms of route-running, you can't point to many other aspects of the position that Kittle isn't superior at. And to gloss over Kittle's run-blocking as Smith did entirely ignores a huge aspect of a tight end's responsibilities.

Smith's co-host Max Kellerman set him straight.

"You're wrong," Kellerman responded. "Travis Kelce is great -- no disrespect to Travis Kelce who looked like for a minute he took over from (Rob Gronkowski) -- but now Kittle has got it. By the way, Kittle averages more catches, more yards and more yards per catch than Kelce -- that's just the catching. And if you want to say you'll take Kelce in that department, I get it. Kittle's specialness, even there, as much as he can catch it is the way he runs it, the way he refuses to go down, which is inspirational to watch."

"Kelce is a great tight end," Kellerman added, "but I don't think there's really a debate right now. The No. 1 guy in the business is Kittle."

[RELATED: Sources: Kittle, 49ers making 'healthier progress' on deal]

Booger McFarland -- the tiebreaker -- called it like it is.

"Listen, I'm not concerned about six straight years, we're talking about right now," McFarland said. "I'm not concerned about the past five, six years. Nobody cares what you did 10 years ago. What are you doing for me right now? And right now, today, George Kittle is the best tight end. He's the best tight end in football."

Why Jimmie Ward's mindset is key to 49ers avoiding Super Bowl hangover

Why Jimmie Ward's mindset is key to 49ers avoiding Super Bowl hangover

Jimmie Ward didn’t watch Super Bowl LIV game film for a month, maybe two. Metaphorical wounds were too fresh, too painful to tolerate a replay of how the 49ers blew a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead to the Kansas City Chiefs in granular detail.

Time turned lacerations to scars and tempered raw emotion enough for the 49ers free safety to look at the game as a teaching tool. Ward didn’t just scan it once. He watched it again and again, maybe 20 times in total.

Viewing it critically dulled the heartache but not the motivation. Count Ward among those driven by dreams of a return engagement, hellbent reaching the Super Bowl again and winning the damn thing.

He has, however, put it in proper perspective. Ward knows the 49ers can’t win the Super Bowl in August. Can’t win it on Feb. 7, 2021 either, without doing what’s required every day prior.

“I hear a lot of my teammates say they want to get back to that spot and win it,” Ward said during a Tuesday video conference. “That’s what everybody wants to do, to get to the Super Bowl and win it. My approach is more about taking it one day at a time, one game at a time. I have been in that position, so I have seen what it takes to get to the Super Bowl, but you can’t look past the first game of this season.

"I can’t look past tomorrow’s practice. I just have to do everything the right way.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

That one-day-at-a-time cliché is easy to say, extremely hard to do for a team that was mere minutes from a championship and let it slip away. It’s human to dream about righting a wrong right away.

Spend all your time looking toward the horizon and you’ll trip over a rock at your feet. That happens to runners-up so often that there’s a term for it.

The dreaded Super Bowl hangover.

It can impact teams that win a title, but it plagues teams that walk away empty handed. Every team that loses a championship game wants to win the next one.

History says that is hard.

Only three teams have won the Super Bowl after losing it the year before. The Dallas Cowboys did it in the 1971 season, the Miami Dolphins won every game and a title in the 1972 campaign, and the New England Patriots rebounded well and won it all after the 2018 season.

That’s a short list, considering how many have trieds. Minnesota, Denver and New England have returned to the title game and lost again. We all remember the early 1990s Bills, who made four straight Super Bowls and lost every single one.

The 49ers certainly are capable of going on a redemption tour. They have all the talent and coaching required to win a stacked NFC West, go on a deep playoff run and end up playing in Tampa for Super Bowl LV.

Anything less, it seems, would be a disappointment. Realizing lofty expectations can’t happen if players are still living in the past. They can’t make dreams reality by skipping steps. That’s why Ward’s philosophy must pervade through the 49ers locker room.

Safety Jaquiski Tartt’s take on the topic suggests that it has.

“Everybody has that same mindset,” Tartt said. “Making it all the way there and not winning leaves that sick feeling in you. We want to get back to that stage and win it all.”

[RELATED: Steve Young believes 49ers must prove lasting power]

Exorcising a demon doesn’t happen in a day. It takes discipline over hundreds of them, and emotion over a missed opportunity can’t fuel you forever. The 49ers have to embrace the grind to realize expectations and do what few teams have done, getting back to the Super Bowl and winning it.

“I just feel like you have to get over it,” Ward said, “and think about how you can get better heading into Game 1.”