Kyle Shanahan will get a look at just how tough and resilient his young 49ers team is in coming weeks as it goes on a rare three-game stretch on the road.
The itinerary includes games at Arizona, Indianapolis and Washington and covers 9,920 miles total – the 49ers will return home following each stop. To put that in perspective, six NFL teams will travel less all season, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose 6,694 total miles are the fewest in the league, according to the NFL.
The 49ers rank ninth in total miles this season with 24,092. After they return from Washington, their only game in the eastern time zone is Oct. 29 in Philadelphia. They won’t step on a team plane during the month of November: They have three straight home games and a bye week.
Though the 49ers haven’t had a three-game trip since 2005, those hauls used to be more common. San Francisco had four such stretches between 1980 and 1991, including the start of the 1989 season – at Indianapolis, at Tampa Bay, at Philadelphia – in which they began 3-0.
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The 49ers also went on the road three straight weeks during the 2013 playoffs – at Green Bay, at Carolina, at Seattle – and won all but the NFC championship game in Seattle, which came six days after the win over the Panthers.
The Falcons, Bengals, Vikings, Patriots and Buccaneers all have three-game trips this season. The Vikings’ three-game itinerary – at Detroit, at Atlanta, at Carolina – is the longest of that group at 4,722 miles and it isn’t half of the 49ers’ mileage.
Road games are where past 49ers teams have shown their mettle.
Bill Walsh’s teams went 47-28-1 away from Candlestick Park during his tenure, including an 8-0 road record in 1984, one of their Super Bowl seasons.
Jim Harbaugh’s squads truly discovered their blue-collar identity during back-to-back road games in Cincinnati and Philadelphia in 2011. They narrowly won both and the victory against the Eagles was sealed by a remarkable, late-game hustle play by defensive lineman Justin Smith when he forced a fumble by an Eagles receiver well downfield.
Shanahan’s biggest priority this season – more than wins and losses – is re-establishing a tough, gritty culture in the 49ers locker room.
Whether it was signing receiver Pierre Garcon in free agency or drafting defensive lineman Solomon Thomas in the first round or even retaining one tight end, Garrett Celek, and trading another, Vance McDonald, most of the moves the 49ers have made in 2017 were done with fortitude and resolve in mind.
The 49ers have yet to win a game and they have yet hurt themselves with mistakes and turnovers.
But Shanahan has been content with his players’ tenacity so far.
“I told them, ‘When you’re 0-3 and you’re facing some adversity, you either get better or worse,’ ” he said after Thursday’s loss to the Rams. “If you have mentally strong people, I believe we can get better from all this stuff and I believe we do have the right guys in that room. I don’t really care about the record right now. I care about how guys are responding to it.”
Air miles this season
1. Los Angeles Rams - 32,600
2. Oakland Raiders - 30,899
3. Arizona Cardinals - 30,035
4. Miami Dolphins - 27,520
5. Los Angeles Chargers - 26,134
6. Jacksonville Jaguars - 24,522
7. Seattle Seahawks - 24,121
8. San Francisco 49ers - 24,092
9. New York Giants - 21,833
10. New Orleans Saints - 20,968
11. Washington Redskins - 20,762
12. Philadelphia Eagles - 20,227
13. Denver Broncos - 18,842
14. Houston Texans - 18,546
15. Dallas Cowboys - 18,084
16. Baltimore Ravens - 18,055
17. New England Patriots - 17,830
18. New York Jets - 16,483
19. Cleveland Browns - 16,386
20. Kansas City Chiefs - 14,671
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 13,683
22. Buffalo Bills - 13,272
23. Tennessee Titans - 13,048
24. Atlanta Falcons - 11,687
25. Indianapolis Colts - 11,236
26. Minnesota Vikings - 10,460
27. Carolina Panthers - 9,808
28. Chicago Bears - 8,318
29. Detroit Lions - 8,218
30. Green Bay Packers - 8,074
31. Cincinnati Bengals - 7,662
32. Pittsburgh Steelers - 6,694