Tony Avelar / Associated Press
The San Francisco 49ers are still the best team in the NFL despite Monday's 27-24 hour loss to rivals by the Seattle Seahawks, but Kyle Shanahan's squad was no longer spent ̵1; making the race to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LIV more interesting and sympathetic.
No team will run with the conference.
The 49ers (8-1) are not guaranteed either. a division crown with the Seahawks (8-2) nipping at their heels. More importantly, San Francisco is now a game behind Seattle with a 2-1 record in the NFC West. As a result, Monday's outcome may have long-term considerations for these two squads to come together again on Week 17.
But knee-jerk reactions are not necessary after being finally missed. of San Francisco is this big proverb.
The 49ers received what they thought would be a boost when offensive tackles started —Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey – and fullback Kyle Juszczyk returned from injury. But Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle did not play due to knee and ankle injuries. Also, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders left the tournament and did not return due to a bone marrow injury .
Tony Avelar / Associated Press
These are not excuses. They are the reality of a difficult NFL campaign. The players are injured, and the teams will not run at the highest efficiency for the 16 regular-season tournaments.
In the case of the 49ers, they will probably get better in the coming weeks.
Staley and McGlinchey did not perform well on their return. Everyone is fighting hard against Jadeveon Clowney, who has created a lot of pressures. They had to knock out a little rust, and Clowney did it for them. As the weeks passed, both tackles had to return to form and provide better protection than they did against Seattle.
Shanahan did not call Juszczyk over the course of the game; he has only one target and zero receptions. The three-time Pro Bowler is a fine blocker and weapon when used correctly. He should include more as the season progresses.
The damage to Sanders was the wild card. His addition before the trade deadline gave the missing piece to San Francisco's offensive puzzle. Sanders' ability to consistently create isolation gave the 49ers a No. 1 target. He quickly became the security blanket of Jimmy Garoppolo. An extended absence is likely to aggravate the offense because this team has yet to play together.
The recipient will have an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of the injury, per Santa Rosa Press Democrat & # 39; s Grant Cohn .
When everyone is on the field, the 49ers can be considered the NFL's most dangerous team. And they still have time together. But they will face a lot of competition for the top spot.
Their upcoming schedule was not easy. Tournament games against the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams and Seahawks will be tough. Four of these franchises are capable of knocking the 49ers off the pedestal as the NFC's leading contender.
San Francisco's latest and last opponent is its immediate threat. The front-runner for Most Valuable Player, quarterback Russell Wilson, leads the Seahawks. Wilson once again showed a bit of his magic overtime.
Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images
After a horrific contact with —a second one by Wilson of the second season —and sold by blows, Wilson completed three of three passes and scrolled for 18 yards on a critical 3-and-3 to get the Seahawks into 49ers territory.
Seattle has never appeared in any game with Wilson leading the way. It's been the better drive game than any other quarterback since entering the league in 2012, according to NFL Research . ]
Wilson was always, though, the X-factor .The defensive end registered five quarterback hits, one sack, one forced fumble, one touchdown fall and one. touchdown.He got a game-wrecker already dedication for his latest performance.
"That was the most famous game of my career," Clowney told journalists . "… We were never from a game."
If Clowney's front and the Seahawks were starting to control the games, there would be another Seattle won the formula to take over the NFC with Wilson's ability to overcome, a strong ground game and a strong defense.
Oh, and Seattle has started working with Josh Gordon on offense too. . The Seahawks have a lot of reasons to think they could improve in the coming weeks as well.
Unlike the aforementioned teams, the Packers seemed to have hit their stride. After a relatively slow start, Matt LaFleur's team has won five of its last six games with a Week 9 rally against the Los Angeles Charger.
Charlie Riedel / Associated Press
The defense has played well throughout the year, but two important offensive factors have come to the fore in recent weeks.
First, Aaron Rodgers plays like, Aaron Rodgers. During these six games, the two-time league MVP completed 66.7 percent of his passes with an 11-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
More importantly, the unit had a man who was constantly putting pressure on his quarterback. Aaron Jones tied for the league lead with the Carolina Panthers & # 39; Christian McCaffrey with 14 touchdowns.
The return of wide receiver Davante Adams to the lineup in Week 9 certainly helped.
Neither the quarterback nor the running back. can put up the numbers they have without hurting the performance. Starting in Green Bay is among the best in the league.
An enhanced offense that accompanies an aggressive and talented defense could take Green Bay – the NFC North favorite – away.
The Minnesota Vikings are just a game behind the Packers, though.
Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press
Mike Zimmer's squad takes an old-school approach that has been extremely effective. Dalvin Cook led the NFL with 991 rushing yards and 50 first-down carries. The ground game perfectly matches the league's fifth-best defense.
This allows Minnesota to be competitive every week. Yes, the Vikings lost three games, but lost the tournament by an average of just six points.
Until quarterback Kirk Cousins provides enough of a solid passing attack, Minnesota can be effective against any opponent.
Positioning in the playoffs would hold its own since the Vikings would have to play the Seahawks and Packers.
Often viewed as the NFC's top opponent, the New Orleans Saints were frustrated by many of their dreadful efforts against the flailing Atlanta Falcons.
Rusty Costanza / Associated Press
The The league's toughest defense in developing pressure has beaten Saints quarterback Drew Brees six times. The Falcons led the fourth quarter. It's especially frustrating for New Orleans as it has two weeks to prepare.
Although, Brees and Co are 7-2 and are over the NFC South. Like the Niners, an unexpected misunderstanding would not erase the Saints' time.
This team suffered a five-week injury to the franchise quarterback with a 5-0 record thanks to good defense, multiple offensive weapons and a steady hand at backup signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater.
New Orleans is as smart as any other NFC team.
Who Can Find a Way?
Four other NFC squads – the Rams, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers – own winning records, albeit slightly (they are 5-4 each).
Probably put together a winning side to challenge the 49ers and the other NFC elite squads. Probably not, but it could happen.
So far, there have been five contenders, and the 49ers are still leading the way. A single game was not enough to change the conference's complexion, but Monday's outcome created an opening for another squad to usurp San Franciso's stance.
The 49ers remained a team to beat – but barely.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for the Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski .