Given a chance to validate a lofty record built on a soft schedule, the San Francisco 49ers instead raised questions about their ability to compete against top teams.
“We’ve got to go beat a winning team,” coach Steve Mariucci said.
San Francisco (11-2), which has locked up the NFC West and a first-round playoff bye, has beat up some NFL weaklings but has failed miserably against the top teams.
Sunday, the 49ers’ 11-game winning streak, fashioned against opponents with a combined 33-55-1 mark, crashed to a halt in a 44-9 loss at Kansas City (10-3). It was San Francisco’s worst regular-season loss since 59-14 at Dallas 17 years ago.
All the 49ers’ wins have come against teams that take non-winning records into the final three weeks of the season. The only other winning team they faced, Tampa Bay (9-4), beat them 13-6 in the season opener. San Francisco’s last three opponents have a cumulative record of 25-13.
“I think you’re going to find, when it’s all said and done, some of the teams we beat are near .500-kind of teams, pretty decent teams,” Mariucci said. “But if we’re going to be a real good football team, then we’ve got to go beat a good team.”
The 49ers will have a few more chances against the NFL’s elite, starting Sunday against Minnesota, which slid to 8-5 after Monday night’s loss to Green Bay. On Dec. 15, the 49ers face Denver (11-2) before finishing at Seattle (6-7).
“We’re 11-2 and there’s nothing wrong with going 14-2,” safety Tim McDonald said. “And I think everybody in this locker room believes that we’re going to end up 14-2. We’re a good football team. We’ll respond. We’ve been beaten before and come back.”
Mariucci described the 49ers’ effort against Kansas City as “uncharacteristic” but said the team needs to regain its edge.
“I think this team is going to be able to handle adversity and failure. I think they’re going to handle it very well,” Mariucci said.