The 49ers aren’t going to say it out loud, nor should they. But there’s at least the scent of desperation as they host the Indianapolis Colts Sunday night in Week 7.
And that scent could graduate to something more with a loss as the 49ers would fall to 2-4 and further lose touch with the Arizona Cardinals (6-0) and Los Angeles Rams (5-1) in the NFC West.
To be frank, if you’re talking about a must-win scenario and it’s not even Halloween, the season is already in trouble.
You can play the “glass is half-full” game and reason that consecutive pre-bye losses to Green Bay, Seattle and Arizona came against good teams.
But wins over Detroit and Philadelphia didn’t exactly stamp the 49ers as anything out of the ordinary, and coach Kyle Shanahan had quite the laundry list Wednesday of things his team needed to be better at coming off the bye.
Not enough turnovers generated on defense. Not good enough defense in the red zone. Not good enough in situational football on offense. Throwing and catching. Too few explosive runs.
He could have mentioned penalties too, but maybe Shanahan was saving that for another press conference.
If you’ve got problems in that many areas, it’s either not a good team or a team that isn’t well-coached. Years ago I remember a Raiders coach lamenting after an 11-loss season that “nobody on our team had a good year.”
Through five games, who on the 49ers is having a good year? Wide receiver Deebo Samuel, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, tackle Trent Williams and defensive end Nick Bosa perhaps, and a few others.
It’s on the coaching staff to put those players in position to have good years and for cornerstone players such as linebacker Fred Warner to be great and not simply good.
So go ahead and be concerned about the 49ers and their viability for the postseason, which could graduate to panic if they’re not a lot better in the coming weeks.
Williams, who is listed as doubtful to face the Colts with ankle and elbow issues, doesn’t see it that way.
“Making a statement, that’s stuff for everybody else to write about and listen to,” Williams said. “There’s no panic from us. Get to play our division rivals again and even out the score. We’re not too worried. There’s definitely a need to get a win to end this ‘losing streak’ but I don’t think panic is what we need to do.”
You could make the argument that barring catastrophic injury, five playoff spots in the NFC are virtually spoken for: Arizona (6-0), Tampa Bay (5-1), Green Bay (5-1), Dallas (5-1) and the L.A. Rams (5-1) — the first four as division leaders and the Rams as a wild card.
That also happens to be the line of demarcation when it comes to quality quarterbacks in the conference — there’s Kyler Murray, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott and Matt Stafford and then there’s everybody else.
That leaves the 49ers competing for one of the two remaining wild card spots. As it stands, New Orleans (3-2) and Minnesota (3-3) would be Nos. 6 and 7 with Chicago (3-3) at No. 8, Carolina at Nos. 9, the 49ers at No. 10 and Atlanta at No. 11.
The quarterbacks for those contenders? Jameis Winston, Kirk Cousins, Justin Fields/Andy Dalton, Sam Darnold, Jimmy Garoppolo/Trey Lance and Matt Ryan.
An outlier is Seattle (2-4), which won’t get Russell Wilson back until Nov. 14 at the earliest and could make some wild card noise.
This is why it makes perfect sense when Shanahan says the play has got to be better around the quarterbacks, rather than expect the 49ers’ quarterbacks to do the heavy lifting. Garoppolo simply hasn’t been good enough, Lance isn’t experienced enough and both have been hurt.
Speaking of injuries, it’s time to start being concerned about tight end George Kittle. The upside of having a player who plays so aggressively in terms of blocking and catching passes is that it inspires everyone else. The downside is Kittle missed eight games due to injury last season, will miss at least three this year and hasn’t scored a touchdown in a calendar year.
The 49ers need to get Kittle back on the field, keep him there and reintroduce him to the end zone assuming he returns on schedule on Nov. 7.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume Shanahan does get those problem areas shored up and the 49ers can make a run at a wild card.
They have three games against teams currently in the wild card jumble for seeds Nos. 6 and 7 — at Chicago on Oct. 31, at home against Minnesota on Nov. 28 and at Atlanta on Dec. 19.
That doesn’t include Seattle on Dec. 5, which should have Wilson — who is 15-4 against the 49ers — back on his home field.
The 49ers aren’t looking ahead. The Colts are a disappointing 2-4 but Carson Wentz is showing signs of being the quarterback he was as an MVP candidate in Philadelphia in 2017 before he tore an ACL then saw his career steadily deteriorate in terms of confidence and quality of play.
In his last two games, Wentz is 36 of 55 for 625 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Lead runner Jonathan Taylor is the NFL’s fifth-leading rusher.
On defense, the Colts have defensive tackle and former 49er DeForest Buckner and middle linebacker Darius Leonard as elite defenders. This isn’t your garden variety 2-4 team in terms of personnel.
Should the 49ers win, and get some momentum going into Chicago, they could set themselves up for a 4-3 record with back-to-back games against the Cardinals and Rams.
As Williams said, that would provide an opportunity to “even out the score.”
Then we’ll find out whether the postseason is realistic or not.