49ers’ coaching staff stresses ‘no time to relax’ over the final two weeks of the regular season

Dec 28, 2022, 3:30 PM | Updated: 3:39 pm
Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers looks on prior to a game against the Washington...
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 24: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers looks on prior to a game against the Washington Commanders at Levi's Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The San Francisco 49ers’ 2022 season is wrapping up a bit differently than the previous year.

Behind the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West standings, the 2021 49ers needed to win out over the final two weeks to clinch a wild-card berth in the postseason. Thankfully, they did that, defeating the Houston Texans and Rams to become the third NFC West team in the playoffs.

The rest, as we all know, is history.

This year has been a bit more relaxed going into the new year for San Francisco, currently sporting a league-best eight straight wins into the final two weeks of the regular season. Thanks to an NFL-leading defense and a revamped offense under rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, the Red & Gold clinched the division after Week 15’s dominant win over the Seattle Seahawks.

But while it’s nice to win your division, that’s not the end goal for the 49ers. That goal has been the same since 1996: Win Super Bowl title number six.

That’s why the Red & Gold don’t feel the need to take it easy over their remaining regular-season schedule, hoping to leapfrog the Minnesota Vikings for the two-seed in the NFC.

“It’s a great accomplishment to win the [NFC] West, but everyone knows that’s not our goal,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said after Week 15. “If we want to go where we want to go, we have to play better on defense and guys understand that wasn’t our best game, and if we want to be a great team and move on, we have to play better defense and guys got that message and they understand what we need to do, so there’s no take a breath, take a breather. There’s none of that. There’s no time to relax. It’s actually a time to pick it up for everybody, for us.”

While the idea is sound, San Francisco could consider benching a few key veterans in Week 18 if they are locked into the three-seed at that time. The Red & Gold are still waiting on QB Jimmy Garoppolo (foot) to come back possibly in the postseason, and wide receiver Deebo Samuel (knee, ankle) could return to the practice field this week.

The 49ers also have the blessing of playing two of the worst teams in the NFL to close out the regular season, the Las Vegas Raiders and the Arizona Cardinals. Both sides are ranked among the last in defensive DVOA, as the Cardinals are ranked 30th overall in 2022.

The point is that both games should be a cakewalk for San Francisco, allowing them to rest players while still securing the win to potentially improve their playoff seeding.

Again, an idea that has been mentioned around the 49ers’ HQ. And while the team will consider all options, the main goal is to get better over the next two weeks.

I mean we’re trying to make sure everyone stays healthy for the playoffs now, in terms of guys who aren’t healthy, then we feel it’s a risk. I mean, we can be very smart with that,” head coach Kyle Shanhan explained Wednesday. “It’s not worth risking that when you know you’re in the playoffs. But the goal isn’t just being healthy in the playoff. It’s ‘we think we’re a really good team and we want to make sure that continues’. And we also think there’s room to get better. And if anything happens, we want to make sure we’re better, not worse. It’s really hard just to put people on hold in football and expect you’ll be the same team, or definitely expect you’ll be better. So every week we’re just trying to keep, whether it’s practice field whether it’s the game, there’s opportunities to get better. And that’s how we look at it and it’s great that there’s an opportunity to get the two-seed. We’ll see what it is after this week. Hopefully we can win, but then we’ll see what the situation is the next week. But we’re not going to risk guys who we think are putting a lot of risks of where their bodies are at now. But I also think it’s a big risk to have guys who have been going and playing football at a high level, just to tell them ‘don’t play for three weeks and then make sure you play at that high level for three and a half hours when everything’s on the line’. So we’re just balancing that out and we’ll see how it continues.”

The team’s final regular-season stand begins in Las Vegas on New Year’s Day against the Raiders.

A team in flux, Las Vegas announced Wednesday that they would be benching long-time starting QB Derek Carr in favor of Jarrett Stidham for the rest of the season. Despite the shocking change at quarterback, Shanahan isn’t worried about it, looking to his guys to continue playing at a high level regardless.

“I don’t worry about that with our guys. Our guys know one way to play and I expect to see them that way,” Shanahan added.

As for the players, they feel the same way, prepared for whomever starts under center for their former cross-town rivals.

“We didn’t see it coming. We just got told 30 minutes ago,” linebacker Dre Greenlaw said prior to Wednesday’s practice. “Whoever wants to go out there and play, man, we’re ready to go.”

Click here to watch Kyle Shanahan’s full Wednesday presser


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