An upstart NFC team equipped with a hungry defense, a young quarterback and a bruising running game has taken the season by storm.
This is nothing new to 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, who is having a mini-renaissance in his second season as a 49er.
“I’m not new to this, I’m true to this,” Sherman said after the game, quoting rapper Drake. “My 15 minutes started an hour ago.”
Sherman, who had an interception late on Sunday, was the face of the brash-talking Seahawks that made back-to-back Super Bowls a few seasons ago.
But those Seahawks, which revolved mostly around the ‘Legion of Boom’ secondary and a steady pass rush — before Bobby Wagner evolved into what he is now — didn’t have Nick Bosa.
The No. 2 overall pick from this past draft tallied four sacks and an athletic interception — and long return afterward– that set the tone for the victory.
Bosa has seven sacks this season, anchoring a loaded offensive line, mostly of former first-round picks, that has finally played up to par in 2019. They played above expectations on Sunday, sacking quarterback Kyle Allen seven times and nothing 13 interceptions in their 51-13 destruction of the Panthers.
In addition to their defense, the NFC-leading 49ers rushed for 232 yards, with Kyle Shanahan-product Tevin Coleman adding 105 of those yards and three scores on 11 carries. And newcomer wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders added the game’s first touchdown after a tipped ball, and subsequently soaked in the winning atmosphere at Levi’s Stadium. Sanders a veteran of the Steelers and Broncos, knows a thing or two about winning football, as he was one of the primary weapons on the Super Bowl 50 champion Broncos.
“All week the energy has been so positive,” Sanders said after the game. “This locker room is just amazing… I will never forget going out the tunnel with these guys. Everybody was laughing & smiling. I was like man this is football, this is fun. Im blessed to be here.”
Unlike the AFC in the 21st century, which has been dominated by the Patriots, Steelers and Peyton Manning-led teams, the NFC has seen a variety of different franchises have their two or three year run at the conference. These upstarts usually burst onto the scene swiftly, like the 49ers and Seahawks of the early 2010’s, or the Rams in the past few seasons.
So now the 49ers have made the jump with a different era of players. They’re ending the decade just as they begun it, creating a team built for a special run of seasons.
With the Seahawks, Packers, Ravens and Saints on the schedule in the next six weeks, we are set to learn more about these 49ers. But what we’ve learned already, is that they’re a legitimate Super Bowl LIV contender.
“We haven’t reached our potential,” 49ers defensive end Dee Ford, an offseason acquisition from Kansas City, told NFL.com.
“We’re just going to keep chopping wood and squeeze out every bit of potential that we can. I don’t know if we’re getting each team’s best shot, but I know they’re getting ours.”
– Bill Belichick picked up his 300th win on Sunday in the same matchup that brought him his first win. Belichick was the Browns head coach, winning in New England, for his first career victory. Almost 30 years later, Belichick has since created the greatest sports dynasty perhaps in history in New England. Belichick has experienced it all and then some up in Foxborough, Massachusetts, but he hasn’t had a defense quite like this. With a slow-to-start offense under Tom Brady and a revolving door of personnel, the defense again picked up the slack, forcing three turnovers in a row in the first half, which virtually put the game out of reach right then. New England won 27-13 behind another outstanding performance by Jamie Collins (1.5 sacks), who was released by the Browns this offseason before coming back to New England. Collins’ playmaking ability encouraged Belichick to switch his defense to more of a two-down lineman base with four linebackers — sometimes a 3-4 front — that has allowed Kyle Van Noy to be a force on the edge full time. With the Ravens up next week, it’ll be interesting to see how Belichick defends their quarterback — the uber-spry Lamar Jackson.
– Simply put — the Eagles bullied the Bills on Sunday. Behind rookie sensation Miles Sanders, veteran Jordan Howard and even Boston Scott (not to be confused with Survivor celebrity ‘Boston Rob’) Philadelphia rushed for 218 yards versus a stout Buffalo defense that came into the game ranked third in total yards allowed per game. Still in need of help on defense, the Eagles clearly took out their frustrations over the past seven games on their Week 8 opponent in a windy matchup in upstate New York. Like the Rams and Cowboys, Philadelphia has the talent to go on a major run during the latter half of the regular season. As we approach November, the real season is about to begin. The Eagles have made two consecutive winter runs under Nick Foles. Can Carson Wentz take the torch?
– The Colts weren’t on their A-game on Sunday. And could they be? The Broncos (2-6) are a train wreck of a team that has turned into a fire sale as we approach this week’s trade deadline. But Denver gave Indianapolis all they had, and it was almost enough. But Jacoby Brissett did just enough. Down 13-12 late, and ffter evading Broncos superstar pass rusher Von Miller in his end zone for a 35-yard sideline heave to T.Y. Hilton, the Colts quarterback did his job in getting his team in field goal range. Adam Vinatieri did the rest. The NFL’s best clutch kicker ever missed a field goal and extra point earlier, but the 46-year-old nailed the game-winning 51-yarder. He always seems to come through when it counts. And in doing so, the Colts showed the grittiness needed to win when you’re not playing your best. That’s a good sign for a team that is battling for a first-round bye in a cluttered AFC after New England.
THE BETTER HALF
1. New England Patriots (8-0) (Last week: 1). As we enter the second half of the regular season, the Patriots schedule increases tremendously with difficulty. They’ll need more out of their offense, perhaps starting next week in Baltimore. Anyone want to bet against Tom Brady?
2. New Orleans Saints (7-1) (Last week: 2). Drew Brees looked fresh and potent, and the Saints steamrolled yet another opponent. They’re the class of the NFC thus far.
3. San Francisco 49ers (7-0) (Last week: 4). Can you believe this defense? They belong right there with the Saints and Packers as the NFC’s top-tier contenders at the moment.
4. Green Bay Packers (7-1) (Last week: 3). Rodgers was magnificent in Kansas City, and running back Aaron Jones caught seven balls for 159 yards and two long scores. He can’t be covered solely by a linebacker. What a weapon he’s become on that offense.
5. Indianapolis Colts (5-2) (Last week: 5). They survived versus Denver. They can win ugly. This is a totally different Colts team than we’re used to seeing.
6. Seattle Seahawks (6-2) (Last week: 6). They let up late, but that 24-0 start was something you usually don’t see from them on an early east coast game. Russell Wilson still leads the tightest NFL MVP race in years.
7. Minnesota Vikings (6-2) (Last week: 7). They travel to Kansas City this week. Even with Matt Moore starting for the Chiefs, this will be tough. Can Kirk Cousins keep it rolling with a huge road win on Sunday?
8. Los Angeles Rams (5-3) (Last week: 9). Cooper Kupp — 7 catches, 220 yards, one touchdown — is the engine for this Rams offense. They’re a much more efficient offense when he’s rolling. He was certainly on his A-game in London.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (5-3) (Last week: 8). The Chiefs kept up with the Packers at home under Matt Moore, but the defense ultimately collapsed. They face a similar test at Arrowhead versus the Vikings on Sunday, another NFC North foe. The good news for them is that this may be their last game before Patrick Mahomes returns under center.
10. Dallas Cowboys (4-3) (Last week: 10). The Cowboys have a monster bye week, seeing as they don’t play until next Monday in New York, versus the lowly Giants.
11. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) (Last week: 11). The Patriots come to town for a Sunday Night Football game that may be Lamar Jackson’s biggest game in the NFL thus far. Can he solve this defense?
12. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) (Last week: 13). Their beatdown of the Bills in Buffalo was much needed. Can they go on another run this winter?
13. Houston Texans (5-3) (Last week: 14). Deshaun Watson was incredible once again, but the bigger story was the season-ending injury to J.J. Watt, who shared a message to his teammates and fans on Twitter, after the game. This is Watt’s third season-ending injury in four seasons. He’s bounced back each prior time, and I would be on him doing it again. He’s a warrior.
14. Buffalo Bills (5-2) (Last week: 12). Ugly loss at home for the Bills. I think we know where they belong. They’re a team with a tough defense and a below-average offense that won’t beat good teams on the road, and may not beat them at home, either. But, they should still make the playoffs.
15. Detroit Lions (3-3-1) (Last week: 16). They made some of their usual mistakes, but they did enough to hang on and beat the troubled Giants.
16. Carolina Panthers (4-3) (Last week: 15). That was a stinker that will rightfully question whether or not Cam Newton should start again this season. Not sure Newton would have looked that bad in San Francisco. But it’s considering that’s his first career loss, this is no time to bury Kyle Allen (5-1). Not yet.
Next up: Jacksonville, L.A. Chargers, Chicago, Tennessee, Oakland