Road trip at Redskins no cakewalk for 49ers
SANTA CLARA — The experts consider this game a glorified bye week for the 49ers. An easy win.
The 49ers are undefeated. The Washington Redskins, their opponent Sunday, are 1-5. End of analysis. The 49ers are supposed to fly across the country, show up to the game, win by a couple of touchdowns and fly home without breaking a sweat. The 49ers are 10-point road favorites. New ground for them.
The experts may come to realize what the 49ers already understand: The Redskins are no pushovers. They will put up a fight.
The 49ers should win, but there are five reasons the game could be much closer than many of the experts think.
1. The 49ers haven’t been frontrunners before: This is the first time practically everyone has picked them to win a game. Almost no one will pick the Redskins.
The past five games, plenty of people picked the 49ers to lose. Those predictions fueled the 49ers, who believed they were underrated and disrespected. Now, they get almost nothing but praise. Can they still motivate themselves? Can they play with urgency?
“They have been told they’re not good,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “They have been told that they shouldn’t be here. They have been told that they should all be cut. We have all been told that we should be fired. So, don’t forget what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence and don’t think that just because you’re being patted on the back that you are going to continue to have success.”
Good teams feel the need to prove themselves every week. Sometimes, good teams come out flat and lose a game they should win. In 2011, the 49ers went 13-3 and beat some fantastic teams, but also lost to the Arizona Cardinals, who went 8-8 that season. Funny things happen in the NFL.
At some point, the 49ers will lose a game no one expected them to lose. Could this be that game?
Richard Sherman understands what’s at stake. “Anytime you sit back and think you’re doing something special, you get distracted. And that’s when you get hit in the mouth.”
2. There will be an early kickoff: Not only do the 49ers have to play an opponent they might overlook, they have to play on the road for the second week in a row. And they have to play a game that starts at 10 a.m. Pacific time.
The last time they played a game so early, Week 2, they beat the Cincinnati Bengals 41-17. But the 49ers had spent the entire week leading up to the game in Youngstown, Ohio. Meaning they were on East Coast time when they got to Cincinnati. They will not be on East Coast time when they play in Washington.
Will the 49ers come out flat and sleepy? If they’re not awake before they step on the field, they’ll find it hard to wake up during the game once the Redskins have the lead and the momentum.
3. The Redskins have a new identity: The Redskins are not the Redskins from two weeks ago. They fired their head coach, Jay Gruden, and replaced him with former Oakland Raiders head coach Bill Callahan.
Under Gruden, whose record was 0-5, Washington was Redskins Lite. They weren’t good at running the ball, and they hardly ran it. They were a finesse, three-wide-receiver, pass-first offense.