The 49ers are suddenly in dire need of some answers heading into their Week 9 bye.
Just three weeks after announcing themselves as early juggernauts, sitting at 5-0 thanks to a 42-10 demolition of the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco played sloppy, uneven football for a third straight game, this time losing, 31-17, to the Cincinnati Bengals to fall to 5-3 on the year.
It might be panic time in the mind of some, especially with the league’s trade deadline looming on Tuesday. Head coach Kyle Shanahan, however, has not been shaken by his team’s recent woes.
“No, none of this changes anything with the trade deadline,” he said following the loss, per ESPN. “How we played today or how we played these last three weeks. …I do believe we have the answers in our building. I believe we have good players. I believe we have good coaches. It’s up to me to get them to do better.
“I thought we started out pretty good, but there’s some things that we haven’t been able to hide here these last few weeks and that’s why we’ve got to continue to push them in every aspect because some people do go on these losing streaks and they don’t have those answers and you’re just living in hope.”
One problem that has taken place in plain sight has been the apparent regression of quarterback Brock Purdy. With just 12 regular-season starts prior to Sunday, he’s still in development, but his recent performances have caused him to lose some of the luster earned from beginning his career with 10 consecutive victories.
Known for taking care of the ball — he had nine touchdown passes and no interceptions during San Francisco’s winning streak to begin the year — Purdy has now tossed five interceptions (two Sunday) to just three touchdowns during this stretch of losing, and he also lost a fumble against a fierce Cincinnati defense that outplayed San Francisco’s D.
Purdy did have his best day of the season in terms of passing yards with 365, but much of that was due to chasing points playing from behind for the entirety of the second half.
While some of Purdy’s struggles have come with wide receiver Deebo Samuel sidelined due to a hairline shoulder fracture, the All-Pro is expected to return soon — and as Shanahan pointed out about the pieces being in the building, both sides of the Niners’ operation still have weapons aplenty.
Tight end George Kittle consistently found the open space against Cincy to set season highs with nine receptions for 149 yards, and wideout Brandon Aiyuk surpassed 100 yards receiving for the third time this season.
Defensively, Arik Armstead got to Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow twice, and Nick Bosa was nasty with 12 pressures, a sign he’s rounding into form despite it only resulting in 0.5 sacks on the day.
And, of course, there’s Christian McCaffrey, who tied an NFL record by scoring in his 17th straight game, adding TDs through the air and on the ground against the Bengals with 118 total yards.
He joined the team by way of trade last year, when the 2022 49ers sat at a crossroads at 3-3. That iteration of the Niners dropped just one more game the rest of the regular season.
While such a run might suggest San Francisco does need to dip its toes once again into trade waters for a similar effect, the point remains that this roster is still very much like the one that already accomplished such a turnaround.
Shanahan appears content with that, even relishing the need to stew over the downturn that’s replaced an early-season high with consternation.
“We’ve got to sit here and wait about 14 days to deal with this feeling that we have, which nobody wants, but I think we need to,” Shanahan said. “I think our guys need to be pissed off a little bit. I think we need to come back with a little better focus because it hasn’t been enough and we haven’t been getting it done.”