And now, as a timely reward for a surprising 4-1 start and three-game winning streak: A bye week. What possibly could be better for the 49ers?
There never is a bad time to have a week off in the NFL. But this one comes at a particularly good time for the Niners, who are starting to feel the injury toll that always mounts by the middle of October. And, it's also a good chance for the Niners to stop, take a breath and take a look around at what they've accomplished. They own the best record in the league outside of St. Louis.
"It's important for us to freshen up both physically and emotionally, and mentally take a break," Niners coach Steve Mariucci.
On Monday, Mariucci mentioned by name 11 players whose bodies definitely could use a break. Center Ben Lynch, who missed Sunday's 37-31 overtime victory against Atlanta with a sprained ankle, and defensive tackle Reggie McGrew, who injured his ankle against the Falcons, both are listed as doubtful for the Niners' next game Oct. 28 at Chicago. Tight end Greg Clark, who has missed the entire season with a hamstring injury, will remain out, Mariucci said. But two key players who have missed the past two games - center Jeremy Newberry and middle linebacker Derek Smith - both are expected to return to the starting lineup against the Bears after another week of resting their injuries.
Newberry, who also has a high ankle sprain, attempted to return against the Falcons. But he had to leave the game after six plays because, Mariucci said, "He flat couldn't do it. He couldn't push off his ankle." Safety Lance Schulters dislocated his right shoulder in the first quarter against the Falcons, but he returned and finished the game after having it popped back in place. He'll have a Magnetic Resonance Imaging exam on Wednesday and is expected to practice when the Niners begin preparing for the Bears next Monday.
The team has short practices scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday and then will be given the remainder off the week off. "I'm more interested in resting them and freshening them up than trying to get an hour practice out of these guys when they're limping around," Mariucci said. "We've played nine games now (including preseason) and they've been here a while. It will be good for them to go home and think about something other than football."