Kyle Shanahan’s patience is wearing thin to the point he’s openly challenging his players to prove they belong as the 49ers (2-8) continue trying to build toward a return to playoff contention.
“Do they want to solidify themselves as a starter, a backup? Do they want to be a part of it here?” the second-year coach asked Tuesday, hours after a dispiriting home loss to the New York Giants (2-7) on Monday night. “Do they want to be one of the answers or a solution to what we’re going through?”
Shanahan addressed his team Tuesday morning before sending off players on their bye week. He left them with a stern and clear message: The remaining six games will be about figuring out which players will stick around and which players’ days might be numbered.
“You’re always playing for something,” he said. “This league doesn’t have patience. I don’t have patience. No one in this league has patience. You shouldn’t have to say that to players. And most of the players that have been around, (mostly) veterans, understand that. But a lot of people don’t understand that. And sometimes, you do have to educate people on that.”
The 49ers followed a familiar losing formula against New York in the 27-23 defeat, surrendering a 10-point lead in the second half, losing the crucial turnover battle 2-0 and failing to make winning plays when they were needed late. The Giants orchestrated a go-ahead touchdown drive in the final two minutes, with the help of two defensive penalties, and the Nick Mullens-led offense couldn’t get into the end zone before time expired.
It was reminiscent of losses to the Chargers, Packers and Cardinals, with the 49ers failing to finish after putting themselves in position to win.
Even without franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco has disappointed in winnable games and currently is in line for the No. 2 pick in the draft behind the Raiders (1-8).
The campaign has gone in the wrong direction after the 49ers entered 2018 feeling competitive enough to be in the postseason mix.
Losing Garoppolo in Week 3 was obviously the most dispiriting development, but it’s not alone.
The performance of second-year players like former No. 3 overall draft pick Solomon Thomas, fellow first-round choice Reuben Foster, third-round cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, slot wideout Trent Taylor and promising young safety Adrian Colbert have left something to be desired - particularly after ending last season on a five-game winning streak with Garoppolo under center.
Many of San Francisco’s young players have regressed, particularly on defense. Foster (shoulder, hamstring), Taylor (back) and Colbert (high ankle sprain) have been injured.
Shanahan used those second-year players as an example during his talk Tuesday, noting a strong finish to one season won’t necessarily carry over to the next.
“I told our rookies, we had a lot of rookies finish the year last year on a real high note and gave us a lot of confidence,” Shanahan said. “And some of those guys got better or worse Week 1 and through this year. And some have gone the right direction and some haven’t. (I’m) very well aware of that. That’s stuff I’ll look into for these six games.”
The 49ers’ game following the bye week will be on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6), owners of the league’s worst scoring defense and most turnover-prone offense (25 through nine games).
But San Francisco has yet to win away from Levi’s Stadium, and it hasn’t won an early game on the East Coast (10 a.m. West Coast start time) since Garoppolo’s first two starts last December in Chicago and Houston.
The 49ers’ next four games are against teams with losing records: at Tampa Bay, at Seattle (4-5), home versus Denver (3-6) and home versus the Seahawks. The last two games are at home against the Bears (6-3) and on the road versus the Rams (9-1).
“We’ll see the guys who truly want to be a part of this,” Shanahan said. “And I see better than I hear. And I’ll always say that. And a lot of guys say the right things. I see guys work and their actions show it. ... I feel we’re just getting started in finding out what our team is.“