Ratto: The 49ers — Still doing just enough with just enough

Defense once again carried the day as Niners slid past Washington

Ray Ratto
October 21, 2019 - 10:54 am

Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Well, at least the 49ers did something unusual Sunday.

In an otherwise delightfully turgid slog through a monsoon in the hellhole that is FedEx Field, San Francisco scored nine points and allowed none in a game in which they were favored by 10. In other words, if you were a 49er fan, you were entertained in no ways by your team unless you like the football of the '50s.

I mean, I don't mind other people soaked to the cellular level while I am dry and warm, but that's me.

Anyway, the 49ers failed to cover despite shutting out a rancid Washington team, and the only other times that has happened since the schedule expanded to 16 games in 1978 were in 1987 (New York Jets at Indianapolis under a dome) and 2007 (Miami-Pittsburgh in equally lousy weather and a much worse field). That's out of 365 shutouts and 9,698 total games, including playoffs, making this essentially a 1-in-5,000 shot.

But nothing else happened, so it was in that way the least memorable game in a so-far memorable season — that is, if you don't mind a defense-heavy 49er team with a quarterback who doesn't do much to amaze or offend you. That violates the 49er template of truth and fandom, and at some point all this winning will not be able to cover up the fact that 49er fans want points more than anything else. It is the fan base's essential character flaw — that while it loves a defense that allows 10 points and 54 plays per game, what it really wants is the next Joe Montana... or, for you younger folks, Steve Young.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Thus, while it is now clear that this pretty much a playoff team without much week-to-week angst until January, the offense is essentially league average in passing (except in the much-valued yards per attempt average, in which they rank seventh). This should of course not matter at all as long as the defeats are rare (and so far you can't get less rare than none at all), but this has not been a good season so far for the Cult Of Garoppolo. He's been efficient but unspectacular, he has caused no serious issues for the coaching staff with his play, and has functioned well within a conservative-ish offense with no discernible wide receivers.

What 49er fans want in their souls is Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, and if they can't get that, they want Sunday's Aaron Rodgers. That's because they have idealized Montana and Young to a high gloss and been deluded into thinking that 20 years of Hall of Fame quarterbacking is the norm rather than the outlier.

Garoppolo (and no, we will not use the infantilizing and fetishistic nickname Jimmy G like he's some bold old-time gunslinger and movie idol because, well, they're creepy and inaccurate descriptions) is what he's being asked to be, and it's working. He averages a touchdown and an interception per game, and none have been particularly memorable. He has had no heroic moments, and the fact that the 49ers haven't needed any will at some point stop mattering to the traditional 49er fan. They'll forget how bad this team was for the previous four years, and forget how conservatively successful this team was for the previous four. This is the new norm for San Francisco football — when the 49ers win, its because they defend, and when they lose it's because they don't.

That should be sufficiently satisfying. I'm guessing, given how quickly this fan base spoils itself in the good times, that it won't be for long.

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