Could it be the 49ers could go winless this season? Could it also be that no one of significance will get fired because of it? And could it further be that the 49ers could emerge from such an atrocious season a better team with a real shot at the playoffs in the near future?
The answer to all those questions is yes, as strange as it might sound.
One merely need to look at two of the team’s rookies, both drafted in the third round, as the reason this team should be oddly confident about their future.
Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, once thought be an early washout because of his lack of physicality, played his most extensive stint of the season and responded with three tackles a pass breakup and his first career interception.
Suddenly, with injuries sidelining first-round rookies Solomon Thomas (knee) and Reuben Foster (back), Witherspoon might be vaulting to the top of the team’s draft class, particularly if he continues to play like he did Sunday.
In talking to local beat reporters following the team’s 33-10 loss in Philadelphia, Witherspoon sounded an optimistic tone.
“The game is slowing down, playing with same technique in practice over and over again, you go into the game, and mentally, you think, how can I lose playing this way?” Witherspoon said. Frightfully smart and earnest, Witherspoon also said, for the first time in his NFL career, something he studied on film unfolded during the game.
“I was never able to apply something on film into live action, so that was exciting for me,” Witherspoon said of the reason behind his third-quarter interception. “For it to actually happen and for it to be beneficial, it was huge.”
Witherspoon picked off a Carson Wentz pass in the third quarter to set up a 21-yard shovel pass for a score to running back Matt Brieda. The touchdown narrowed the Eagles’ lead to 20-7 at that time.
During the week, Witherspoon noticed the Eagles receivers’ favored “dig” or comeback routes out of their bunch formations. So Witherspoon sat on the route and broke to pick off the Wentz pass.
Philadelphia bumped up the lead later in the game, but Witherspoon’s turnover might have at least given the 7-1 Eagles a little pause.
Another player who won praise in the locker room, particularly from coach Kyle Shanahan was his other third-round pick, quarterback C.J. Beathard.
His stat line was hardly scintillating. Beathard completed 17 of 36 passes for 167 yards with two interceptions and a touchdown. He also spent most of the afternoon either running out of trouble or getting sacked. He took four sacks and raced for a team-high 40 yards on six forays from the pocket.
“C.J. was battling with a real tough situation,” Shanahan said of his quarterback who played behind an injured offensive line against one of the best pass rushing teams in football. “That was a huge challenge when you have guards playing tackle.”
All three of the 49ers tackles were injured, leaving free-agent rookie Eric Magnusen and veteran guard Zane Beadles to man the tackle spots.
Beathard said he really didn’t think much about being without Pro Bowl guard Joe Staley (eye) and veteran Garry Gilliam (knee). And as usual, he took the focus off himself with his post-game comments.
“I think we are a young team with a new coaching staff,” Beathard said. “The question is how to react and act when you’re 0 and 8. We got to look to the leaders and hopefully we will win this week in Arizona.”
There’s little question that Beathard has the requisite toughness and fortitude to play in the NFL. The
question that remains with him is talent, and that’s something everyone will discover of the course of the next eight games, even if the 49ers don’t win any of them.