San Francisco saw a boost in production with the return of several starters in the Week 12 contest against the Los Angeles Rams. The added support of Richard Sherman, Raheem Mostert and Deebo Samuel helped raise San Francisco's postseason chances as the 49ers now sit a game out of a wildcard spot with five weeks remaining in the season. Despite being in the middle of a transition of being uprooted from Santa Clara to their temporary home in Arizona, the 49ers have taken on the challenge with much to play for with five weeks remaining in the season.
"It's easier to go through the grind when you have a chance to get into the tournament at the end," head coach Kyle Shanahan said on Tuesday. "We're professionals. This is what we do. So, I don't expect anything to fall off. But I know it's a hell of a lot more fun and a lot easier to go through that grind when you've got a chance to extend your season at the end."
Another boost would certainly be beneficial for the 49ers with an upcoming schedule that features three of five opponents with .500 records or better. Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle add their names to the list of 49ers who could make potential returns down the final stretch of the season.
Garoppolo is recovering from a high-ankle sprain suffered in the first half of the 49ers Week 8 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks – a completely new, and worse sprain than the initial injury that forced the quarterback to miss two and a half games earlier in the season. San Francisco consulted multiple doctors who revealed the quarterback did not need surgery, opening his chances for a potential return late in the season.
San Francisco's plan was to rest the quarterback for 4-6 weeks and re-evaluate him for a possible late-season return.
As for Kittle, San Francisco's tight end left the fourth quarter of the same contest after hauling in an impressive 25-yard reception from Nick Mullens in between two defenders. After limping off the field, future testing showed the tight end suffered a small fracture in his foot and would miss extended time. Now several weeks removed and a salvageable season, Shanahan believes an impending return isn't out of the cards for two focal pieces of San Francisco's offense.
"I'm holding out hope for Jimmy for the last couple weeks – the same with Kittle. I think they're in a similar boat with that," Shanahan said. "That's not guaranteed. It's how they react over the next couple of weeks. But they're just starting to get into where they get on the field on their own and do some stuff. That's hopefully going to be the last couple weeks, or two games or one game or none."
Due to COVID-19 restrictions placed by Santa Clara County, the 49ers training facility is closed for the time being. Shanahan expects 49ers working their way back from injuries to also take the trip with the team to Arizona to continue their rehab.
In other news, Shanahan expects the remaining three 49ers on the Reserve/COVID-19 list to return to the active roster. Brandon Aiyuk, D.J. Jones and Jordan Willis all missed Sunday's game against the Rams due to the designation and are expected to play on Monday night.
While the 49ers are looking forward to the return of several starters, a number of players aren't likely to suit up for the rest of the season. Center Weston Richburg and defensive lineman Ronald Blair III began the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list while working their way back from offseason procedures. According to Shanahan, both players suffered "really bad" setbacks in their returns from surgery, likely closing the door on their 2020 returns.
The 49ers were hopeful they would receive edge rusher Dee Ford back in the lineup at some point this season, however, the chances look grim as he continues to make a return from a back injury. Ford hadn't seen the field since the 49ers season opener given the complexities of back and neck injuries. Although not likely, Shanahan said he is still "holding out hope" for the Pro Bowl pass rusher.
San Francisco added two cornerbacks to the Injured Reserve list on Tuesday in Jamar Taylor and Ken Webster. Taylor was carted off the field late in the first half as the team confirmed their fear of an ACL injury. Additionally, Webster left the game in the fourth quarter on a special teams play, with what Shanahan revealed as a severe hamstring injury.