This is how the rest of the NFL lives.
And the 49ers — namely head coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Brock Purdy — need to get used to living this way now, too.
The Niners’ duo at the two most important positions in the sport has been living a charmed life since it came together a year ago this month.
Until Purdy had his elbow explode in the NFC Championship Game, everything seemed to have broken the Niners’ way. Even Purdy’s recovery from that injury was charmed.
The pixie dust has disappeared. This team is dealing with some actual, honest-to-goodness adversity following a second straight loss on Monday — this one to a 3-4 Vikings team in Minneapolis, capped by two Purdy interceptions in the final six minutes.
“We flat-out got beat. Right now, you have to take it like a man,” Shanahan said of the 22-17 loss.
Here’s what the 49ers are facing: Wide receiver Deebo Samuel isn’t playing because of a fracture in his left shoulder. Left tackle Trent Williams missed Monday’s game because of an ankle injury. Running back Christian McCaffrey was not his best self against the Vikings — he has an oblique injury. And, critically, the Niners’ once-vaunted defense is spinning. Minnesota amassed 452 yards on Monday. The Niners can’t blame injury for that inauspicious number.
Those might seem like excuses for Monday’s loss. They’re not.
No, injury and struggling unit play are commonplace problems in the NFL.
And these issues make San Francisco look like every other squad in the league — flawed.
That means the Niners will need to do what every other team in the league does: Lean on their head coach and quarterback to right the ship.
We will find out just how good Shanahan and Purdy are in the coming weeks.
That’s because most of the league’s good teams rely on their quarterback — handsomely paid far more than anyone else — and a select coterie of other star players dispersed throughout the roster to stay salary-cap compliant.
Those quarterbacks need to make more with less, be that random weapons, a lacking offensive line, or a defense that can’t keep them in a game.
Typical quarterbacks are not getting five All-Pro-caliber players (Williams, Samuel, McCaffrey, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk) around them like Purdy. No, they’re lucky to get two. A great quarterback can, perhaps, make one more.
No excuses, though. The best make do with what they have, win MVPs and compete for Super Bowls. Others don’t, and their teams live in NFL purgatory or lose their jobs.
Where will Purdy fall on this spectrum now that the tables have been leveled?
The Niners haven’t been subjected to this question before because Purdy is the cheapest starting quarterback in the NFL, making less than $1 million a season. Pair his strong play (let’s not pretend he’s a scrub) with that small salary, creating a positive feedback loop. The Niners are committed to Purdy long-term, but while he’s cheap, they’ll surround him with the best roster money can buy — the kind of roster that had the team out to a 5-0 start, looking invincible.
Clearly, the Niners aren’t invincible because football is still a cruel, violent game and injuries are more than just a part of it.
And that’s the reason why quarterbacks are so handsomely paid in this league — head coaches, too.
The two roles are where good teams are most stable.
If the pairing of quarterback and head coach is genuinely elite, it doesn’t really matter who else is on the coaching staff or roster — the team wins.
And while neither of the Niners’ losses can be truly pinned on Purdy or Shanahan, the truth is that the standard should be higher.
Both need to elevate their games. For Purdy, that means not turning the ball over like he did in Cleveland and Minnesota.
For Shanahan, it means busting out the deep cuts of the playbook — the Niners can be predictable and bland on offense without Samuel — and perhaps helping out with the team’s defense, too. (What a concept for a head coach!)
The Niners have a short week before their next game — a home date against the Bengals on Sunday, who have won two straight and are coming off a bye week. Samuel will miss the game. Williams is no guarantee to play, either.
It’s just another tough spot for San Francisco,
It’s chaotic, mentally taxing and physically exhausting. How do other teams function amid all this mess?
It doesn’t matter — it’s the Niners’ lot now.
Let’s see if the team’s two most important people can guide them through it.