Niners at 4-0 is surprising. Or is it?
11:17 PM
Art Spander

SANTA CLARA,  Calif.—The number is down to two now. Five weeks into the 2019 NFL season and of the 32 teams only two are unbeaten. One of those is the New England Patriots, which isn’t surprising.

  The other is the San Francisco 49ers?  Which is surprising. Or is it?

  The Niners were supposed to be improved. but who knew? Who knew they could be 4-0, which is their record after dominating the Cleveland Browns, 31-3, Monday night at Levi’s.

   Yes, undefeated in four games, which has not been accomplished by any Niners team since1990, since the days of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Roger Craig. And Steve Young, because he along with Joe and Steve  became an unfortunate part of what until the last couple quarters of play could have been an historic season.

That 1990 team was going to be the first in league history to win three straight Super Bowls, but in that championship game at Candlestick Park, Montana got hurt and Young came from the bench and Craig missed a handoff and the New York Giants recovered.

   Kicking five field goals the Giants would stun the Niners, 15-13.

    Twenty-nine years ago, the glory days, and perhaps after a seemingly endless wait, after a change of stadiums, of course, the Niners may have returned to the game’s upper echelons. Not to where the Patriots reside, but to a place of respectability.

  The Niners will know more, much more, after  playing the Rams on Sunday in Los Angeles. It they beat the Rams, who were and possibly still are the NFC favorites—after all they did reach the Super Bowl last February—then, well, OK, don’t even offer the suggestion to Niners coach Mike Shanahan, but anything’s possible.

  “I mean it’s still early,” said Shanahan when asked about the record. “It means we played four games, one less than most people. It you tell me that at the end of the year when the season is over you’ll see me celebrating pretty hard. We’ve got to get to work on the Rams. It’s going to be a short week,”

Kyle is in the third season as Niners head coach, and it was Bill Walsh’s third season, 1981, when San Francisco not only became a winner but also became the NFL’s best for a long while, the team of the ‘80s.

Sure that thinking is premature, but the way the Niners battered what was supposed to be a contending Browns team, (it’s now 2-3), outgaining them, 446 yards to 180, intecepting two passes, recovering two Cleveland fumbles, was very impressive. Even exhilarating.

  The 49ers were coming off their bye week. Sometimes teams after the inactivity are sluggish.

   “It was a long two weeks,” said Shanahan. “We felt like we had some good momentum (before the bye). Spending two Sundays watching other teams play. That was the first time I’ve had to do that.. Two weeks in a row without playing.”

The Niners started fast—their first play from scrimmage, Matt Breida, untouched—excellent blocking as well as excellent running—sped 83 yards for a touchdown.

  ‘A big hole,” said Breida. “I saw a big hole. The play worked the way it was supposed to work.”

  As almost everything worked, offensively and defensively. As almost everything has worked this season.

  “It gives you a big boost,” said Breida of the quick score. “The team feels that, and everyone feels the energy, When we did that, and the defense then comes out and (Cleveland) goes three and out, it’s just an amazing feeling.”

  The feeling for Baker Mayfield, the Browns quarterback picked first in the 2018 draft, was the opposite.

  “You make mistakes,” said Mayfield, “a team like that is going to capitalize on them”

  And going to troll the imperfections. When he was at Oklahoma, Mayfield, in a game at Ohio State grabbed a Buckeyes flag and faked planting it into the turf. Monday night after a sack of Mayfield, Niners rookie, Nick Bosa, a Buckeye, the Niners No.1 pick in the 2019 draft, mocked Mayfield.

   “Hopefully,” said Shanahan, “it was a Niners flag and he didn’t offend anyone.”

   Other than Mayfield that is,

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