Ten seasons ago, the then-Washington Redskins were coming off of a 21-13 loss to the one-win Carolina Panthers who, at the time, were looking up at the entire of the NFC. Washington entered its Week 10 Bye possessing just three wins to six losses, ultimately writing off the rest of their 2012 campaign.
Heading into the season, Washington traded its original first-round selection (No. 6 overall), second-round pick (No. 39 overall) and first-round selections in the next two ensuing drafts to the Rams in exchange for St. Louis' second-overall selection. That pick was used on an "electric" quarterback out of Baylor, Robert Griffin III.
In Week 11, the rookie quarterback put up a four-touchdown performance in a divisional matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles that propelled Washington's bleak season forward. Coming off of their Bye, the team rattled off a seven-game winning streak to close out the regular season 10-6, earning an NFC East Division title en route to a Wild Card appearance.
That year, six players from the team were selected to the 2013 Pro Bowl, including left tackle Trent Williams. Washington went on to have the top-ranked rushing attack in the league, spearheaded by current 49ers running backs coach Bobby Turner, and its offense ranked fourth and fifth in the league, respectively, in points and yards per game.
And the driver behind Washington's offensive success? Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Revisiting Washington's drastic mid-season turnaround isn't being said to guarantee that the 49ers will follow a similar path ten years later, but it is an opportunity to put the 49ers dismal start to the season into perspective.
"It felt like the world was falling apart and we were last place in the division," Shanahan recalled. "We finished the year 10-6 and ended up winning the division and going into the playoffs. So, I get all the questions, but it's way too early for me to start thinking about just getting guys experience and giving up on the year in that way. I'm trying to do what's best for our team. And also what's best for those players."
For the first time in NFL history, the postseason has expanded to 14 teams, with seven available playoff spots per conference.
As it stands at 2-4, the 49ers are essentially a game behind the Atlanta Falcons (3-3), Chicago Bears (3-4) and Carolina Panthers (3-4), who are all on the outside looking in heading into Week 8 – each chasing after the Minnesota Vikings (3-3), who are currently occupying the final seventh spot.
San Francisco would need to put their season into overdrive if they have any hope to remain relevant entering the second half of the season. Of the teams battling for the final postseason spot, the 49ers will face off against four of those clubs over the next 11 weeks (Vikings, Falcons, Bears and 2-5 Seattle Seahawks), which could have plenty of implications down the stretch of the season.
But let anyone in the locker room tell it, the focus is on one game at a time, which begins Sunday as the 49ers are set to travel to Chicago to take on rookie quarterback Justin Fields and the Bears.
Sitting at 2-4, unsurprisingly, questions have begun floating around surrounding personnel changes on offense. San Francisco possessed a lowly 1-of-11 third down conversions while also committing a whopping four total turnovers.
Despite Jimmy Garoppolo's rough outing where the quarterback connected on just 59 percent of his throws for 181 yards, one touchdown and three costly turnovers, Shanahan made it apparent the 49ers are sticking with the veteran going forward.
Entering into Garoppolo's homecoming on Sunday, the urgency for a win is dire if San Francisco has any hopes of turning its season around. But the 49ers biggest challenge heading into the Windy City isn't just their opponent – it's getting out, and staying out, of their own way.
"It's just about putting in more time, more effort, staying longer, putting in more hours, things like that. It's the little things at this point," Garoppolo said. "The NFL is a crazy thing. One week you're on top, one week you're at the bottom of it. Every team has their ups and downs. We're at the lower end of the point right now. But we can fight back."
While the talent is undoubtedly there, San Francisco will have to work through their woes as they near the all-or-nothing point of the season. It will be a steep uphill battle in a division and schedule that boasts a rematch against the undefeated Arizona Cardinals and two contests against the super-charged Los Angeles Rams. However, the team isn't waving the white flag.
San Francisco has another opportunity to right its wrongs, but much of the fate of their season lies in their own hands, which begins at Soldier Field on Sunday. The 49ers are still expecting the looming return of several veterans, including George Kittle, Jeff Wilson Jr., Dre Greenlaw and Robbie Gould to name a few. And if the team can find its footing and rediscover its lost identity, anything can happen in the ups and downs of the game of football.
"Our record is 2-4, so I get it, and we've lost four in a row… But we're 2-4, you get two games in a row and you're right back to .500 and you've got a chance," Shanahan added.