With Matt LaFleur’s Green Bay Packers at 4-1 and Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams at 3-2 on the heels of their Super Bowl appearance last season, the combined head coaching mark this season of Shanahan, LaFleur and McVay is 11-3.
It is Year 3 of the rebuilding project for Shanahan and John Lynch, the general manager of the 49ers, in San Francisco. The Niners got off to a 0-9 start in 2017 in the duo’s first season in the Bay Area. But Lynch traded for Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers finished strong, raising expectations for last season. Those hopes were dashed when Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in the third game of the 2018 season. The Niners, predictably, fell apart, and Shanahan and Lynch were left with a two-year record of 10-22.
But the 49ers stuck to their plan and now Garoppolo is back in the lineup and making Shanahan’s offense work. He threw two touchdown passes Monday night against the Browns to complement a rushing attack that produced 275 yards. Matt Breida sprinted to an 83-yard touchdown on the Niners’ first offensive play and they never looked back. They led by 14-0 in the first quarter, by 21-3 at halftime and by 28-3 early in the third quarter.
The 49ers are a complete team that began the day ranked fourth in the league in total offense and third in the NFL in total defense. A pass rush led by Nick Bosa harassed Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield throughout the game Monday. Mayfield threw two interceptions in an eight-for-22, 100-yard passing performance and was sacked four times. Bosa had two of the sacks and mocked Mayfield at the end of the first half by pretending to plant a flag in the turf. That was payback for their college days when Mayfield planted an Oklahoma flag on the field at Ohio State, Bosa’s university.
“I had to get him back for it,” Bosa told ESPN after the game.
The Niners will have tougher matchups to come in a rugged NFC West in which they must square off with the Rams and Seattle Seahawks. But if there were any doubts about the 49ers’ legitimacy as a potential contender, they were erased Monday.
When Shanahan, McVay and LaFleur worked at Redskin Park, there was no way of knowing for certain just how good they’d be as head coaches. With each coach, a case can be made that the Redskins didn’t really make a mistake in allowing him to leave. That’s just how it works in the NFL sometimes. Coaches move on. Their success elsewhere depends on the circumstances in which they find themselves. Shanahan has Garoppolo in San Francisco. LaFleur has Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. McVay has Jared Goff in L.A.
But the totality of the coaching talent that has left the Redskins organization is striking. McVay turned the Rams from losers into Super Bowl participants within two seasons. LaFleur has hit the ground running in his first NFL head coaching job with the Packers. Shanahan seems to have turned things around in San Francisco. Meanwhile in Ashburn, team president Bruce Allen parried away reporters’ pointed questions Monday about his role in the Redskins’ woes.
Maybe, just maybe, the past will inform the present and the future for the Redskins. Some within the league believe that they will take a long, hard look at Kevin O’Connell, their 34-year-old offensive coordinator, to be Gruden’s more permanent replacement. They should be wary, that line of thinking goes, of allowing another young and promising offensive coach to leave the building, and potentially thrive somewhere else.
If the Redskins needed another cautionary tale, all they had to do was watch Shanahan’s 49ers play Monday night.