Atlanta Falcons

Kyle Shanahan not allowing undefeated 49ers to get ahead of themselves

Kyle Shanahan not allowing undefeated 49ers to get ahead of themselves

The 49ers are the last remaining undefeated team in the NFC, sitting pretty at 3-0. So, the playoffs are a foregone conclusion, right?

Don't tell that to Kyle Shanahan.

"That is good, but that doesn't mean anything," San Francisco's head coach said (h/t ESPN's Nick Wagoner). "I've been 5-0 and not made the playoffs before, so that doesn’t mean much."

The frustrating collapse to which Shanahan referred was his experience in his first season as the Falcons' offensive coordinator, back in 2015. Atlanta raced to a 5-0 start but went on to lose seven of its next eight before ultimately finishing a disappointing 8-8.

Shanahan learned from that, and isn't allowing his 49ers to look too far ahead. That said, he believes there's value in acknowledging the fact that they're 3-0 for the first time in two decades.

"It's both," Shanahan explained. "You've got to believe. There's lots of things that make you believe. You've got to believe that you're good enough, and I think we've added some guys that definitely help, and I think guys that have played here know that they're good enough. They've gone and been in a lot of situations.

"I feel like guys are getting better, and that's the confidence that helps you believe in yourself."

There's no question that San Francisco is a superior team compared to one year ago. On offense, the 49ers average the fifth-most points (32.0) and the second-most rushing yards (175.0) per game. On defense, they rank third overall, having allowed the fifth-fewest yard per play and already tied their forced turnover total (seven) from last season.

That said, there's ample room for improvement. The 49ers have been too careless with the ball on offense, for one, and their record -- albeit undefeated -- has come against teams that are a combined 3-9.

Standout defensive lineman DeForest Buckner agrees with that sentiment.

"We know as a group we can be so much better," Buckner said. "We know we can do better on that on all phases. ... It's just the little things. It's executing and just taking care of the ball and getting the ball on defense."

[RELATED: 49ers' D-line, Garoppolo impress Browns coach Kitchens]

Fresh off their Week 4 bye, the 49ers have been focused on those improvements heading into "Monday Night Football." They'd love to get to 5-0 and -- eventually -- the playoffs, but first, they have to go through the Cleveland Browns.

Fantasy football rankings 2019: Top 10 QB-receiver stacks to draft

USATSI/NBC Sports Bay Area

Fantasy football rankings 2019: Top 10 QB-receiver stacks to draft

Drafting a quarterback and a skill-position player from the same team can be a tricky proposition in fantasy football.

If that team goes off for 42 points, you'll likely make out like a bandit with double the points. But if that team is held in check, you're in trouble.

The other downside to having two top players from one team on your fantasy football roster is that you have to fill two important spots on the same bye week.

But having one of these quarterback-wide receiver stacks could pay off big time for you during the 2019 season.

Drew Brees and Mike Thomas, Saints

Despite throwing for under 4,000 yards for the first time since 2005, we still expect Brees to play well in his age-40 season.

Thomas caught more passes (125) than anyone last season. He's a ball magnet, and without a strong No. 2 receiver, Thomas should still see a high number of targets from Brees.

Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, Falcons

Ryan and Jones are two seasons removed from reaching the Super Bowl. They combine to make one of the most dynamic young duos in the league.

Last season, Jones caught 113 passes from Ryan for an NFL-best 1,677 yards. The emergence of Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley could take some targets away from Jones, but he will still put up monster numbers no matter who's on the field with him.

Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill, Chiefs

This duo possibly has the most upside of any on this list. Both are young and have yet to reach their potential.

Mahomes is the reigning league MVP, while Hill avoided a major suspension at the hands of the NFL following an incident involving his child.

Hill caught just 87 passes last season, but turned that into 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's a big-play machine and as explosive as any player in the league. If he's on the field, expect big things.

DeShaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, Texans

If you polled experts and asked them to pick the best wide receiver in football, a good number of them would pick Hopkins. Last season, he caught 115 passes for 1,572 yards.

Watson finally was able to play an entire season and showed what he's capable of by throwing for 4,165 yards. But he's still got room to improve. Expect big things from Watson and Hopkins this season.

Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr., Browns

This is the biggest wild card of the group. We all know what OBJ is capable of. When he was motivated in New York, he was a monster.

Mayfield had a good rookie season, and most experts expect him to take the next step this season. With two legitimate options in Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, Mayfield should put up huge numbers.

Aaron Rodgers and DeVante Adams, Packers

The Packers made a big change at head coach, replacing Mike McCarthy with Matt LaFleur, and they are hoping it pays off with Rodgers and Adams.

Last season, the duo connected on 111 passes for 1,386 yards. Green Bay will need more of the same in order to get back to the playoffs.

Kirk Cousins and Adam Thielen, Vikings

Thielen has been one of the biggest surprise stars over the last three seasons. Last year, he caught 113 of the 153 balls thrown to him for 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns.

Surprisingly, Cousins finished with the second-best completion percentage (70.1) in the league last season.

Derek Carr and Antonio Brown, Raiders

A lot of "ifs" surround this duo.

If Brown's frostbitten feet heal and if he can find a helmet he likes, he should continue to be a dominant, game-changing force.

If Carr can regain his former from 2016 when he threw 28 touchdowns and just six interceptions, the Raiders should bounce back from a disappointing 4-12 season.

Carr and Brown have the chance to be an electric combo, but they must perform to the best of their abilities.

Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, Cowboys

Cooper's disappointing 2018 season turned around when the Raiders traded him to the Cowboys. In nine games with Dallas, the former first-round draft pick caught 53 passes for 725 yards and one touchdown.

Prescott might not get the massive contract he's looking for, but in a full season with Cooper, he should put up big numbers. That will certainly help his case for a payday.

Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers

With Antonio Brown out of the picture, Smith-Schuster becomes the No. 1 target for Big Ben, so you can expect numbers similar to his 111 receptions and 1,426 receiving yards from last season.

Roethlisberger led the NFL with 5,129 passing yards, but that was obviously boosted by Brown. Without the All-Pro, defenses could double-team Smith-Schuster and limit his impact.

More fantasy football draft kit content

Top five moments of NaVorro Bowman's legendary career with 49ers

Top five moments of NaVorro Bowman's legendary career with 49ers

NaVorro Bowman announced his retirement as a member of the 49ers on Tuesday after a stellar seven-season career that included four first-team All-Pro selections.

The 49ers chose Bowman in the third round of the 2010 draft, and it took the team a full season to move him into the starting lineup.

From the moment he entered the starting lineup in 2011, Bowman established himself as one of the game’s top stars until a horrific knee injury and a torn Achilles sidetracked his career.

GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan released Bowman after five games in 2017 following his request for a trade due to a reduced role in the team’s defense. He finished his career with a 10-game stint that season with the Raiders.

Bowman, 31, attended practice in Santa Clara on Tuesday, making it known he wished to retire as a member of the organization that saw him experience his greatest successes.

Here is a look back at Bowman’s top-five moments with the 49ers:

Pick-six to close the ‘Stick

The play that stands out from Bowman’s career features incredible instincts, timing, athleticism and flair.

The farewell to Candlestick Park came on Dec. 23, 2013, a Monday night game against the Atlanta Falcons. The end zones were painted red to signal the significance of this game.

The 49ers needed a victory to clinch a playoff spot. And the Falcons appeared poised to spoil everything. With the 49ers leading 27-24, Matt Ryan marched his team down the field to the 49ers’ 10-yard line in their bid to take the late-game lead.

“The 49ers are shocked,” exclaimed then-ESPN TV analyst Jon Gruden.

Then, Bowman did the shocking.

A number of teammates contributed to Bowman’s shining moment. Eric Reid brought pressure up the middle to hit Ryan as he was throwing. Tramaine Brock made an outstanding play to break on the route and fight to get the ball away from receiver Harry Douglas.

Bowman was picked up on a blitz up the middle. But when the ball came out quickly, Bowman reversed direction, covered a significant amount of ground and was able to grab the ball out of the air from the Brock-Douglas stalemate.

Bowman returned it 89 yards for a touchdown – punctuated by his leap and backflop into the end zone.

“What makes him think in his instincts he could go get in on that play when it’s 10 or 15 yards away?” Jim Harbaugh said afterward. “His training, his instincts, just make him go.”

PBU to Super Bowl

Two years earlier, the 49ers were also clinging to a late lead against the Falcons. This time, it was in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. The 49ers led 28-24 with one minute remaining.

On a fourth-and-4 play from the 49ers’ 10-yard line, Bowman was matched up against wide receiver Roddy White who lined up just outside right tackle. White ran at Bowman. The two made contact. Ryan’s pass was a little behind White, and Bowman batted the ball away with his left hand. Ryan picked the wrong player to challenge on the game's most critical play.

The Falcons wanted pass interference. The officials did not agree. It was a PBU for Bowman, a pass broken up. And the 49ers secured the trip to Super Bowl XLVII.

Bowman breaks out

He spent his rookie season as a backup to Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis, as well as being a core special-teams player. When the 49ers did not bring back Spikes in 2011, Bowman stepped seamlessly into the starting job.

Bowman and Willis immediately became one the best duo of inside linebackers in the league. Early in the 2011 season, coaches admitted they had to repeatedly rewind the video to identify whether it was No. 52 or 53 making the tackles.

That first season together, Bowman recorded 143 tackles, compared to Willis’ 97. Bowman was snubbed from the NFL Pro Bowl team in the voting among players, coaches and fans.

But the moment that showed the ultimate form of respect came when the AP media panel named Bowman as one of three first-team All-Pro linebackers. Bowman as he joined Willis and Kansas City’s Derrick Johnson as being recognized as the best inside linebackers in the entire NFL.

Setting the tone

Bowman erased any doubt of being a one-hit wonder in the season opener of 2012 against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

In the middle of the fourth quarter with the 49ers protecting an eight-point lead, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were within striking range. Rodgers was coming off a season in which he threw 45 touchdown passes and just six interceptions.

But Bowman deflated the crowd at Lambeau Field when he baited Rodgers into a rare interception. Bowman came up on the line of scrimmage as if to blitz, then dropped into coverage to pick off Rodgers’ pass intended for Greg Jennings.

Bowman, who also had 11 tackles on the day, returned the interception 11 yards. On the next play, Frank Gore put the game away with a 23-yard touchdown run.

The 49ers would go on to defeat Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs en route to winning the NFC title.

[RELATED: Bowman left lasting impressions on ex-49ers teammates]

Long-awaited return

Bowman and the defense led the 49ers to three consecutive trips to the NFC Championship game. In January 2014, the 49ers and Seahawks had an epic battle in Seattle for the right to move onto the Super Bowl.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, Bowman made a fantastic play while sustaining a grisly left knee injury. He ripped the ball away from Seattle receiver Jermaine Kearse at the 1-yard line. (Inexplicably, the ball was awarded back to the Seahawks despite Bowman gaining clear control of the ball and being on the ground with secure possession.)

The knee injury sidelined Bowman for the entire 2014 season. He finally made it back in the 2015 preseason. Bowman appeared in three snaps in his first exhibition game and, of course, he recorded three tackles against the Dallas Cowboys.

His regular-season return came on Monday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings, and Bowman recorded seven tackles and a sack in the 49ers’ 20-3 victory.

“I felt great man, just throughout the whole game, confident, just worried about the game plan, not the knee,” Bowman said afterward.

Bowman led the NFL with 154 tackles and was named first-team All-Pro for the fourth time and final time in his career.