SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

The San Francisco 49ers’ history of starting 3-0

Sep 23, 2023, 6:30 AM

Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers during warm up before the game against the Los Angeles Ram...

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 17: Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers during warm up before the game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on September 17, 2023 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

After their 30-12 victory over the New York Giants on Thursday night, the San Francisco 49ers are 3-0 for the second time under head coach Kyle Shanahan. Since joining the National Football League in 1949, the 49ers have started their season with three wins on seven previous occasions.

Starting 3-0 doesn’t guarantee postseason success, but it’s typically an encouraging sign. Of the aforementioned eight seasons, they reached the Super Bowl three times, including two victories. Conversely, they managed to miss the postseason twice.

Let’s take a look at the 49ers’ history of 3-0 starts and their varying outcomes from that starting point.

2018-19

Head Coach: Kyle Shanahan
Regular Season Record: 13-3
Postseason: Lost in Super Bowl

Their initial win streak did not stop at three. In fact, they managed to secure eight straight victories prior to losing 27-24 in overtime to the Seattle Seahawks. Three years into Shanahan’s tenure, the 49ers were NFC Champions before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

Their Pro Bowlers from that season were Kyle Juszczyk, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, and Richard Sherman.

It was the first NFL season for Bosa, Deebo Samuel, Dre Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair, and Mitch Wishnowsky.

1997-98

Head Coach: Steve Mariucci
Regular Season Record: 12-4
Postseason: Lost in Divisional Round

The 21-year gap from their previous 3-0 start shows the rarity of starting undefeated. It’s worth noting that the San Francisco 49ers had a bye in Week 3 prior to recording their third win. After falling to 3-1, they rallied off three consecutive wins before finishing the regular season 12-4.

After defeating the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card, they suffered a narrow 20-18 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta eventually lost to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.

That year, San Francisco’s Pro Bowlers were Steve Young, Garrison Hearst, Jerry Rice, Kevin Gogan, and Winfred Tubbs. The 37-year-old Young and 36-year-old Rice had impressive seasons but ultimately could not get the job done.

1994-95

Head Coach: George Seifert
Regular Season Record: 11-5
Postseason: Lost in Divisional Round

Just as in ’97-98, this 49ers’ roster lost their fourth game of the season before ending the season 11-5. They finished first in the NFC West but were unsuccessful in their lone playoff game against Brett Favre and the Packers with a final score of 27-17.

Their Pro Bowlers were Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Brent Jones, Bart Oates, Dana Stubblefield, Lee Woodall, Ken Norton Jr., Eric Davis, Tim McDonald, and Merton Hanks. Rice led the league in receiving yards (1,848) and yards per game (115.5) at 33 years old.

1989-90

Head Coach: George Seifert
Regular Season Record: 14-2
Postseason: Lost in NFC Championship Game

Coming off of back-to-back Super Bowl victories, the ’89-90 49ers started their season 10-0. Ten consecutive wins is the best start in franchise history since they joined the NFL in 1949.

Following their dominant start, they went 4-2 to close out the regular season. Despite a first-place finish in the NFC West, they fell 15-13 to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game. The Giants did not score a single touchdown but managed to convert five field goals.

San Francisco’s Pro Bowlers that season were Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Guy McIntyre, Charles Haley, and Ronnie Lott. Rice led the NFL in receptions (100), yards (1,502), touchdowns (13), and yards per game (93.9). It was also Montana’s last season as a full-time starter for San Francisco.

1988-89

Head Coach: George Seifert
Regular Season Record: 14-2
Postseason: Won Super Bowl

After winning the Super Bowl in 1988, the San Francisco 49ers came out on fire in Seifert’s first season as head coach. They lost their fourth game but eventually improved to 8-1 en route to a 14-2 finish.

Their only two losses were against the St. Louis Rams in Week 4 and the New York Giants in Week 11. By all statistical counts, they were dominant until the end. They emphatically defeated John Elway and the Denver Broncos 55-10 in the Super Bowl.

San Francisco’s Pro Bowlers that season were Joe Montana, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Guy McIntyre, and Ronnie Lott. In typical Jerry Rice fashion, he led the league in yards (1,483) and touchdowns (17).

1983-84

Head Coach: Bill Walsh
Regular Season Record: 15-1
Postseason: Won Super Bowl

While they didn’t match the 10-0 start of 1989-90, this season was the 49ers best regular season record in franchise history. Their lone loss was a three-point deficit against the Pittsburg Steelers in Week 7.

After winning their first Super Bowl three seasons prior, they cruised to a 38-16 victory over Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins.

Ten of their players were awarded Pro Bowl honors: Joe Montana, Wendell Tyler, Fred Quillan, Randy Cross, Keith Fahnhorst, Keena Turner, Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, Carlton Williamson, and Dwight Hicks.

1979-80

Head Coach: Bill Walsh
Regular Season Record: 6-10
Postseason: N/A

In what may be the biggest outlier on this list, the Niners managed to lose eight straight games after starting 3-0. It was Bill Walsh’s second season as head coach, and quarterback Steve DeBerg started more games than Montana.

With a 6-10 record, the 49ers ranked third in the NFC West and, therefore, out of the postseason picture. They had zero Pro Bowlers on their roster.

1951-52

Head Coach: Buck Shaw
Regular Season Record: 7-5
Postseason: N/A

Behind quarterbacks Y.A. Tittle and Frankie Albert, the ’51-52 49ers won the first five games on their schedule. Disappointingly, they proceeded to end the rest of their season 2-5 and missed the postseason.

That roster featured seven Pro Bowlers: Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenny, Gordie Soltau, Leo Nomellini, Ed Henke, and Hardy Brown. The two furthest removed 3-0 starts in the San Francisco 49ers’ history are the only occasions where they missed the postseason after winning their first three games.

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