The 49ers are not off to the start they had envisioned for the 2020 season.
The New England Patriots are below .500 through five games for the first time since 2002.
But it does not matter. This Week 7 matchup has infinite layers of intrigue because it matches two of the NFL's most skilled and creative minds: Kyle Shanahan vs. Bill Belichick.
Throw in the added storyline of the quarterback returning to the place where his career began as Tom Brady's backup, and it makes for a fascinating matchup on Sunday at 1:25 p.m. in Foxboro, Mass.
Here are five players who must come up big for the 49ers (3-3) in order for them begin to build some momentum and make a move in the NFC West:
_5. Deebo Samuel_
The 49ers' offense will not have the big-play threat of running back Raheem Mostert in the running game for a while. Mostert is out indefinitely with a high ankle sprain.
Samuel is rounding back into form after missing all of training camp and the first three games of the season following offseason foot surgery. Now, there's nothing he cannot do. And there is nothing the 49ers would not think to ask of him.
Samuel will help the 49ers compensate for Mostert's absence with his contributions in the run game. The 49ers like to get the ball in Samuel's hands with jet sweeps or forward tosses that he hauls in at top speed to enable him to quickly get to the edge.
Samuel will face his biggest challenge of the season on Sunday when he is matched up against Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year last season.
Samuel will have to keep the Patriots' defense honest with routes at every depth in order to open up plays on underneath routes that he can turn into big games with yards after the catch.