After their 5-0 start, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the 49ers were destined for the Super Bowl. And while they should still be considered a strong contender to come out of the NFC, the road to Las Vegas apparently won't be as easy as initially thought for Kyle Shanahan's club.
Niners pass rusher and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa essentially said as much following Monday night's 22-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. A week after losing a 19-17 decision in Cleveland, the 49ers never led in Minnesota, failed to score 20 points in consecutive weeks for the first time since 2021 and failed to sack Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who threw for 378 yards.
"The NFL will humble you every step of the way," Bosa said after the game, via NBC Sports Bay Area. "Getting off to a 5-0 start, you kind of get that confidence that you are who we need to be, but the NFL does that. Good players, good schemes, and we're going to face another good team this week, so we gotta be ready."
As Bosa alluded to, the 49ers won't have time to lick their wounds with the Bengals coming to town on Sunday. After a 1-3 start, Joe Burrow and Co. won two straight games before going on their bye week. And unlike Cousins (who didn't have Justin Jefferson to throw to on Monday night), Burrow will have his full complement of receivers Sunday in Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
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Injuries, a common theme for the 49ers over the past several years, is an issue once again. Wideout Deebo Samuel (shoulder) and star left tackle Trent Williams (ankle) were held out of Monday night's game, while Christian McCaffrey (oblique) played through his injured oblique. McCaffrey scored both of the 49ers' touchdowns, but he also committed a costly fumble that led to the first score of the game.
Mistakes, Shanahan said, were the biggest difference between the two teams on Monday night.
"They had one punt today, we had one punt. They had one turnover, we had three turnovers," Shanahan said, via the team's website. "So I think when both teams only punt once, it looks like it's going to be a shootout but we ended up turning it over two more times than them. It was a five-point game, so it's almost as simple as that."
While the 49ers look to get back on track, Bosa is also looking to pick his game up after recording just 2.5 sacks through the season's first seven games. Fortunately for him, the 49ers will face a Bengals offensive line that has historically struggled to protect Burrow, even with the addition of Orlando Brown Jr., Ted Karras and Alex Cappa in recent years.