The San Francisco 49ers have come oh-so-close to victory in each of their last five games, but are still 0-6.
The pressure isn't on -- not yet, at least. Unlike another 0-6 team that is starting to feel the heat even as seasonal temperatures drop along Lake Erie, the leash remains long for the new San Francisco regime of head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. That's the message 49ers owner and CEO Jed York conveyed in speaking with reporters on Thursday.
"Obviously we're not there yet," York said Thursday. "I wanted to make sure that John and Kyle came in here and had a very, very long runway. That they had the ability to get the roster where they wanted it and knew that this wasn't going to happen overnight. And I think our players are encouraged. They see the progress that they're making. They know that they're not quite there yet."
San Francisco most recently came two points shy of sending a road game against the Washington Redskins to overtime, and it was quite a surprise that the Niners were even in it. Washington jumped out to a 17-0 lead and looked to be in command before rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard's insertion jolted the Niners into action. A late drive into shallow Washington territory came down to a fourth-and-20, which resulted in a heave toward the sticks and a prayer that ended in an interception, and another loss by three points or less.
The Niners have lost all but one game by three points or less. The close losses are frustrating -- a week earlier, defeat was delivered via overtime for a second time in as many weeks -- but encouraging for a Niners team that, on paper, looked to be one of the worst teams in recent memory. Inspired play from the Niners' defense and contributions from under-the-radar additions Marquise Goodwin, George Kittle and Trent Taylor have San Francisco playing competitive football, even if the Niners' brass knows the team is still far off from high-level contention.
"I think our players, as much as you might not like the record, I don't get the sense that our players are discouraged at all," York said. "And I think there is great belief in Kyle; there's great belief in John; there's great belief in the foundation that we're building. ... We don't want a quick fix and sacrifice the long-term success for a few wins that may or may not mean anything this season. We want to get this team back to championship-caliber level. And I think that's the trajectory we are on.
"The results may not show it, but I think the feeling you get around this building and the feeling you get talking to the players and the coaches, we're much closer than our record suggests."
San Francisco is still a couple of productive drafts -- the final evaluation of Beathard is far from being complete -- and offseasons from reaching a level the franchise once occupied not too long ago. But it should be comforting to Niners fans that while their team has competed and failed to finish the job recently, ownership is ready to bear the losses in the name of long-term success.