GLENDALE, Arizona – Life as a business traveler is about to hit the 49ers. Hard. Like a Samsonite falling on a big toe.
They’ve packed their 0-3 record to go play the next three on the road, with no layovers between games such as past seasons’ stays in Youngstown, Ohio and Orlando, Florida.
Four of their next five games, actually, are away from Levi’s Stadium. This gauntlet will define their first season under coach Kyle Shanahan.
“It’s going to be a good test for the young guys, to see mentally where are they and how they conduct themselves outside of football,” veteran center Daniel Kilgore said. “That’s going to play a big role on what we do on Sundays.”
Nearly 10,000 air miles will be accrued over 16 days. You can find these business travelers in Arizona on Sunday, Indianapolis on Oct. 8 and Washington on Oct. 15.
These are not weekend getaways. This is not “wanna-get-away” time. These are three road games that must deliver more than three national anthems.
Can they keep their bodies and minds sharp? Can they commit the time to truly scout their opponents and learn assignments? Can they avoid distractions away from their nests?
A road win — or two — is needed, as linebacker NaVorro Bowman can attest.
“If things continue to go the way that they’ve been going, I’ve seen it and it’s never good,” Bowman said, “so we want to try to change that.”
The 49ers must start winning “if we want to change this culture,” Bowman added with an exasperated tone.
They’ve changed out their coach, general manager and over half their roster (33 of 53 are newcomers). Their win-loss record remains the pits.
The 49ers lost a franchise-record 13 in a row last season, including seven on the road by a lopsided average of 17.9 points. They won their road finale Christmas Eve in Los Angeles (thanks to some quarterback who’s no longer in the league) and haven’t won a game since.
This grueling stretch is going to reveal the character of a youth-laden roster and whether competitive grit is taking shape under coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. After an Oct. 22 home date with NFC contender Dallas, the 49ers play at Philadelphia on Oct. 29, then stay home all of November.
“We might have to change something,” Bowman said of the 49ers’ away-game approach. “That’s all the guys on the team being constant professionals, them understanding that our backs are against the wall and that we do need a win.”
After losing their past nine home games, perhaps the road is what the 49ers need for Shanahan’s first win? Perhaps.
“It’s a hostile environment,” cornerback Rashard Robinson said of road games. “You’ve got to go out and make sure everyone is on the same page. If everyone is on the same page, everything should go like clockwork.”
The 49ers defense should benefit most, if two weeks ago was any indication, when that unit played its best all season before losing 12-9 at Seattle.
Crowds will be sedate – pending big plays — when home offenses are on the field, allowing defensive players to relay calls easier.
“I do have great faith in the defense,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said, “and I cannot wait, I cannot wait for Sunday to see what we’re made of.”
One of the 49ers’ greatest defensive plays ever came six years ago, when Justin Smith forced a fumble to preserve a road win at Philadelphia in October 2011. That capped a two-game, two-win road trip sandwiched around a layover in Youngstown, Ohio.
The NFL schedule maker didn’t pick on the 49ers for this road-trip hat trick. But the 49ers are the first of seven teams with three straight away games. Other teams are the Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles.
The last time the 49ers had back-to-back-to-back roadies: 2005, when they went loss-loss-win near the end of Mike Nolan’s first season as coach (4-12). In 1989, they began their successful defense of their Super Bowl reign with three straight road wins.
In 2017, they hit the road refreshed. They’ve had nine days of rest and preparation.
And away they go.
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