Niners’ fun may end against the Seahawks and Packers

© David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

Even the coach was impressed. “We were fun to watch,” Kyle Shanahan said about his 49ers. Well, sure, when you grab the game early and never let go, especially when the master, grumpy Bill Belichick, is in charge of the other team.

Fun to watch, indeed.

But let’s put the enjoyment on pause. Belichick’s New England Patriots were great, dominant, overwhelming, the franchise — until now.

The Pats that the Niners dispatched 33-6 on Sunday back there at Foxboro are barely a shell of what they used to be.

The Niners should have won.

“A slow death,” the astute Tony Romo, commenting for CBS, said of the manner in which San Francisco was grinding down the Patriots, running on offense, halting on defense.

Two victories in succession, a so-so 3-3 overall record for the season. And now, in order, come the once-beaten Seahawks (losing Sunday night to Arizona in overtime), the once-beaten Packers and the twice-beaten Saints.

Maybe the fun has stopped. Or maybe it hasn’t.

“We got to come into this house and put some points on those boys,” tight end George Kittle said about the win over the Pats. “It was really fun for us.”

And particularly difficult for Belichick, who has six Super Bowl wins but, after 20 years of Tom Brady, now seemingly has no quarterback.

Cam Newton came in before the season as a free agent after Brady, also a free agent, left for Tampa Bay.

Newton, however, is not the answer. After throwing his third interception of the game against the Niners — the Patriots had four in all — Newton was benched in favor of Jarrett Stidham.

The 49ers did what winners invariably do, rarely giving up the ball (San Francisco was on offense 38 minutes 23 seconds of the total 60) or yards, outgaining New England 467 to 241.

“We were clearly out-coached, outplayed,” Belichick conceded with words rarely heard before. “Just out-everything.”

There were a lot of subplots: Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, once Brady’s heir apparent with the Pats, returning to New England, completing 20 of 25 for 277 yards (along with two interceptions; a defense lacking so many injured players but somehow relying on reliable Fred Warner and little-known Jamar Taylor (two picks) stuffing people. The 59 net yards allowed were the fewest the Niners allowed in a first half in eight years; sub Justin Wilson running for 112 yards and three touchdowns before twisting his ankle.

Impressive certainly. Yet, we’ll find out much more this coming weekend in the first of two games against Seattle, which even after its first defeat of 2020 — nobody wins them all, other than the ’72 Dolphins — is the best team in the league, along with Kansas City.

The Niners don’t sound intimidated, nor do they sound terribly confident of reaching the Super Bowl a second straight year. They seem to be a group of people who are gaining experience and newfound belief in their possibilities.

“We’re not looking back,” said Warner. “We’re ready.”

Kittle, the tight end and spiritual leader — well, he’s always coming up with a poignant quote, and on Sunday he came up with a touchdown reception on a Garoppolo pass — said, “We should have been playing like this.”

But they weren’t, dropping two straight games to teams with sub-.500 records.

“There was a sense of urgency,” said Garoppolo, echoing other teammates.

Shanahan had his part in the rebound. These are the 49ers he wants: aggressive, pushing the issue and pushing the other guys back to where they started. The tactic definitely worked against the Patriots.

“Kyle’s mindset is to get after a team,” said Garoppolo, “and stay after them.”

Staying after the Seahawks and Packers will test the planning of Kyle Shanahan and the skills of his players to a high degree.