The NFL isn’t always kind for teams who just lost the Super Bowl.
Of the first 53 teams to lose the Super Bowl, 16 did not make the playoffs the following season. Prior to the 2018 Patriots, only two teams have ever lost the Super Bowl and then won it the following year: the 1971 Cowboys and 1972 Dolphins.
Suffering defeat in Super Bowl 54, the 49ers now have the opportunity to change the narrative of how teams fare in the immediate aftermath of a Super Bowl loss.
Flipping the script is exactly what coach Kyle Shanahan was able to accomplish last season. The 49ers, while decimated with injuries, went 10-22 over Shanahan’s first two seasons. It all changed last season as San Francisco finished atop the NFC with a 13-3 record while representing the conference in the Super Bowl.
Are Shanahan’s 49ers built to last? Can they avoid a hangover? There are three primary reasons why San Francisco can avoid a letdown year in 2020.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will turn 29 in November and has been in the league since 2014 but he’s still very much a developing player. Last season was his first full year as a starting passer and his results were impressive. In 26 career starts, which includes two with the Patriots in 2016, teams have a 21-5 record when Garoppolo.
While there has been some debate on how much Garoppolo matters to the 49ers, the answer lies in how they have performed with and without him in the lineup. Since 2017, San Francisco is 19-5 with Garoppolo and 4-20 without him.
Entering his fourth season with Shanahan, Garoppolo’s comfort within the system will be extremely high as he grows with his supporting cast. An opportunity came later for Garoppolo, and the success he enjoyed in 2019 just scratches the surface for where he can go. There’s plenty of reason to believe Garoppolo will be an even better quarterback moving forward which will help the 49ers avoid regression.
The 49ers had the NFL’s No. 2 defense last season, and despite facing some challenging salary cap dynamics, returns almost all of the ingredients that made them successful in 2019. The notable departure was defensive linemen DeForest Buckner, but at least San Francisco was able to net a first-round pick in exchange and used it on Javon Kinlaw, who is an immensely talented and cheaper option as Buckner’s replacement. General manager John Lynch was able to bring back key pieces in defensive back Jimmie Ward and defensive end Arik Armstead to avoid turning over more of the lineup.
Of similar importance was the team did not lose defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to a head coaching vacancy. While another year like 2019 should land Saleh an opportunity to be a head coach, his return to the 49ers is a major win for the team to have continuity within the scheme for another season.
The 49ers were a well-balanced football team in 2019 and the defense should continue to play at a high level and help eliminate the chance San Francisco has a letdown year in 2020.
Developing Young Talent
Part of what gives the 49ers staying power as a contender in the NFC is how many young players were part of the winning formula last season and they should be even better as they mature in the league. Nick Bosa immediately became an impact defender and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year, but 2019 was just the beginning of what promises to be a dominant career.
Linebacker Dre Greenlaw only became a full-time player beginning in Week 10 and showcased the makings of fixture for years to come. He should take a step forward and show even more comfort in his sophomore year.
Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, an undrafted free agent in 2018, progressed steadily throughout last season and performed well in the postseason. He has a chance to settle into a starting role and provide the 49ers yet another steal.
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel is entering his second season, while linebacker Fred Warner and offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey have already become reliable starters but are only entering their third season in the league. There’s reason to believe all of these players will have even greater impacts moving forward as they develop.
In addition to the established young talent on the roster, Lynch added to it by selecting wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw in the first round of the 2019 draft. The cupboard is full when it comes to promising young players in San Francisco.