Arik Armstead didn’t waste time or words telling the world how he felt about what happened Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium. He snatched his cell phone shortly after the 49ers dominated the Jets 31-13 and conveyed the anger coursing through his veins instead of your standard post-victory high.
His tweet was clear and concise, perfectly encapsulating the disastrous start to the 49ers season that has nothing to do with results.
Armstead has a right to be pissed. The 49ers defensive end saw Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas go down with potentially season-ending injuries in a three-snap span. He watched Jimmy Garoppolo and Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman leave the game unable to return.
They all suffered lower-leg injuries while playing on new MetLife Stadium turf that was hazardous to players’ health. Armstead said it was thick. Kyle Shanahan called it sticky. Both adjectives apply. So does this phrase: Unfit for football.
It may well have turned the 49ers' season upside down, because MetLife Stadium sapped the 49ers' star power. Bosa ranks high among the NFL’s elite pass rushers. He’s likely done for the year. Thomas, too. The 49ers lost their quarterback and best running back, possibly for a few games at least.
All of that happened in a game where the 49ers were missing Richard Sherman, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Dee Ford. The team now is without seven of its top 10 players, regardless of position. That’s brutal. Simply brutal.
Armstead is one of the few elite talents still standing, and he isn’t happy about it.
“How can I be happy when my guys are going through tough situations?” Armstead said. “It’s great that we got the win, but life isn’t all about football. Those guys are my brothers, so I’m thinking about them.”
Armstead was also troubled by the fact the 49ers have to play on that same turf next week, this time against the New York Giants. The 49ers can’t afford any more significant injuries while maintaining Super Bowl aspirations that are starting to crack under the weight of all these injuries.
“There’s a lot of anxiety after seeing guys you love go down and get hurt,” Armstead said. “We have to come back here and play on the same surface. That’s anxiety-provoking to see what happened and know that you have to go out and do it again.”
The 49ers will lick wounds at a West Virginia resort and try to replace great production with depth and a new signing or two. The 49ers have battled serious injury issues previously during the Shanahan era. Losing Jimmy Garoppolo early in the 2018 campaign derailed an entire season. They managed to stay strong after being dealt a bad hand injury-wise in 2019, persevering en route to Super Bowl LIV.
Can they weather this storm? There’s confidence that they can.
“We’ve been in situations like this before, when guys are going down,” Armstead said. “There’s a tough mentality you have to have throughout the season. There’s a lot more football left to play. We need different guys to step in and fill big roles.”
The 49ers should be able to get fat going through the softest part of their schedule, with the Giants, Eagles and Dolphins coming up next. They could beat those teams with a practice squad. Their health coming out of that stretch will be vital.
It’s possible Samuel and Sherman are back by then. It’s too early to tell for sure, but Garoppolo and Mostert might be ready to go when the going gets far tougher. Kittle and Ford should be back before then. So, in short, all is not lost.
Depth will be key from now on, with unheralded players assuming major roles. This has happened before, and that’s how we found out that Dre Greenlaw is the real deal and Mostert can be a feature back. Who will step up this time? Can the depth chart pull the 49ers through?
“This team is built for that,” middle linebacker Fred Warner said. “We have a lot of depth, with Kyle and John creating the team that they have over the years. Guys are ready to step up. We all have to be better.”
Whether the 49ers survive this injury plague or are ultimately felled by it, what happened Sunday against an automatic win like the Jets will be remembered one of two ways. It will either be a turning point, or a breaking point.
That ultimately will be determined by how the 49ers respond to all these setbacks.