Kyle Shanahan made his reputation as a subtle, even ingenious, coach and thinker, so it seems odd to see him playing this season like an Adam Sandler movie — the punch line gets delivered in the opening credits and remains the core of the movie until you start fishing for your car keys about half an hour in.
As for Shanahan, the narrative of his team's season is already there for all to see. It's in seeing if he can supervise more wins than he can endure more critical injuries. And because this is not a clever plot line, he is already behind, 8-1.
Now, it isn't his score alone. Nothing about football is done alone. But as the public face of the company, he gets to own the fact that he is entering Week 3 of this remake of 1917 without his:
# Starting quarterback.
# All-pro defensive end.
# All-pro cornerback.
# All-pro tight end.
# Best running back.
# Best wide receiver.
# Second best defensive end.
# Second- (or third-) best running back.
Plus the usual injury bits and bobs that all football teams have after two weeks. Frankly, if I were Trent Williams or Fred Warner, I think I'd stay in bed all week with "DO NOT DISTURB" carved into the headboard.
See, it isn't just that they have guys in dry dock, it's the quality and import of the guys they have in dry dock. It's not just that they started the season a little on the thin side, it's that they keep adding names every week. It isn't that they're unlucky, it's that they maintain their lack of luck with a consistency and fervor unseen in any of Shanahan's prior stops. If you hated the 49ers (and frankly, who doesn't from time to time?) you couldn't pick more damaging targets off a roster unless you wanted to throw in Trent Williams and Fred Warner just out of gleeful sadism.
The problem with this, of course, that we now have an inescapable central plot line for the rest of the year, namely: Were they injured enough to win or lose? It makes for much more tedious conversation at the tavern, but you can't hang around the tavern these days anyway. But it is the core of the movie from here on out, whether you like it or not.
It was "How important will Brandon Aiyuk be?" but not now. It was "Is Jimmy Garoppolo an impediment to the fan base's manifest destiny?" but now he's on only one leg. It was "Is Nick Bosa the best defensive player in the sport?" but now it's "Will he be that in 2021, or 2022?" It was "How does Shanahan defy the history of the Super Bowl loser?" but now it's "When does his contract finally run out?"
Or something like that. But it all springs from the 49ers now being less than they were projected to be because they all got hurt. It's not an accurate analysis, to be sure, because they lost to Arizona because the Cardinals are better, and they beat the Jets because the Jets are hideous. The injuries were all the rage and will continue to be, but in truth they are 1-1 because they should be 1-1. Everything after this will be either because or despite the injury list — unless you'd like us all to agree that this is just that football thing where guys get hurt all the time whether you like it or not.
But I suspect you'd prefer to talk about injuries. Well, it's the narrative we've been given, so what the hell. Enjoy the popcorn.