Kurtenbach: The 49ers’ perfect start justifies this team’s preseason hype

49ers’ blowout win over Steelers in season opener makes Super Bowl dreams seem natural

The 49ers’ preseason hype appears to be justified.

Yes, the team has only played one regular-season game, but it was a game to remember.

The San Francisco 49ers didn’t just beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-7 on Sunday; they smacked them around.

Christian McCaffrey scored on a 65-yard run, and the Niners’ defense forced Pittsburgh to go three-and-out on their first five series, giving San Francisco a 20-0 lead that was never challenged.

The Niners had outgained the Steelers 231 yards to 1 at one point in the first half.

You’ve probably seen this type of game before if you watch college football: The big, blue-chip school was up against the small, lower-division regional college.

However, instead of Alabama vs. Southeast Louisiana State, it was two professional teams in the NFL’s parity era.

The Niners went into this season expecting to have the best defense in the NFL and one of the most talented offenses in the league. Following Sunday, no one can argue with those designations.

Both units came into the season fully prepared. It gave the impression that the team was playing a video game on easy mode.

There’s still a long way to go — 16 games left, plus the playoffs — but the Niners demonstrated on Sunday that their best is unrivaled.

“I think it was exactly how we wanted to come out,” said Fred Warner, a linebacker with eight tackles and two pass breakups. “In previous seasons, there was an emphasis on us [having] slow starts. We knew we needed to come in and set the tone right away.

Offense, defense, special teams — I think we accomplished everything we set out to do.”

And there is a challenge that comes with such excellence:

Keeping it up.

The Niners were fantastic in Game 1, but this cannot be their high point.

While expecting San Francisco to play this well on a weekly basis would be absurd, it would be extremely disappointing if the season’s first game was the team’s high point.

Every season, there are teams that start strong but fade as the season progresses. That cannot be the script for a team with clear Super Bowl aspirations.

Of course, there’s little reason to believe that will be the case for the 49ers, who have reached the NFC Championship Game three times in the last four seasons.

The most important component of this team’s success formula is staying healthy. For nearly a decade, the Niners’ health has been an issue in comparison to their peers. So, while the 49ers have a talent advantage over nearly every other team in the league, that advantage is only valid if their best players are on the field.

What are the other potential growth areas? It takes a lot of nitpicking to find them.

Except for McCaffrey’s touchdown scamper, the rushes between the tackles were lacking.

The Niners’ two-minute defense was also subpar.

“I think there’s still some feel-it-out plays,” McCaffrey said. “We could have done a couple of other things… All of this takes time. I believe it is critical that we continue to improve with each game.”

Purdy, the team’s second-year quarterback who is now 7-0 in the regular season as the Niners’ top passer, will bear a large portion of the responsibility for maintaining and improving. (He’s also won two playoff games.)

After all, quarterbacks determine a team’s fate in this league.

Even though Purdy is the Niners’ third-lowest-paid player, the team’s future appears to be in good hands.

Purdy not only made the easy plays that nearly every quarterback under head coach Kyle Shanahan has made, but he also threw some big-time passes into the mix, testing the Steelers defense.

He also made some yard-gaining and play-extending scrambles.

If Purdy has elevated his game, the 49ers will have more to offer in 2023 than at any other point in Shanahan’s tenure.

And, given that this team has previously been on the verge of a championship, that can only mean one thing.

We’ll find out in due time if that’s the case.

But for the next few months, the 49ers can try to outperform the exceptionally high standard they set on Sunday, and we can have a lot of fun watching them.

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