San Francisco was dealt some difficult cards over the weekend as the 49ers were alerted just ahead of taking off for their Week 12 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams that the team must find a new place to practice and play due to COVID-19 restrictions placed by Santa Clara County.
According to the county, contact sports, including those involving professional leagues, have been temporarily prohibited, as well as a 14-day quarantine for anyone traveling into the area from 150 miles away as Coronavirus cases continue to surge in Bay Area counties.
The team announced on Monday, an agreement with the National Football League and Arizona Cardinals that allows the 49ers to host their Weeks 13 and 14 home games against the Buffalo Bills and Washington Football Team at State Farm Stadium in Arizona.
It's not the first time the 49ers have stayed remote during an NFL season. San Francisco has spent week-long trips between East Coast road games in back-to-back seasons, including two in 2019 in-between their Week 1 and 2 matchups against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cincinnati Bengals (Youngstown, Ohio) and their Week 13 and 14 contests against the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints (Sarasota, Fla.).
The team also stayed in West Virginia to open the season during their back-to-back contests at MetLife Stadium.
As it stands, the restrictions are in place through at least Dec. 21, however, head coach Kyle Shanahan says the team will take the new modifications "one week at a time," with the initial focus on the Bills.
"We've traveled as a team for a week before, so I'm trying to get guys not to make all their decisions yet, which is tough with their families and everything," Shanahan said. "Hopefully we can get down there for a week and kind of figure it out – what we can do, what we can't do, what the situation is – and then we'll spend the next two weeks trying to make adjustments to make it as good as we can for whatever problems we can figure out."
According to the head coach, the team is set to depart for Arizona from Santa Clara on Wednesday afternoon. The team will practice on fields neighboring the stadium, which is where the Cardinals have held their training camp, and have made arrangements to accommodate players, staff and coaches in close proximity to the grounds.
Given the extra day of preparation, Shanahan anticipates the team getting a "normal week" of practice beginning on Thursday for their Monday night matchup against Buffalo.
While the 49ers have historically played well when not returning home from a road trip (3-0 since 2019), a major difference between the 49ers East Coast stays, despite the obvious, is the team's ability to build camaraderie while on the road. Instead of the training camp-esque feel of players spending time together, the team will continue to follow social distancing protocols and hold team meetings virtually.
"The place that we bond is really on the field or in Zoom meetings. Just because we're in a hotel together, doesn't mean we're together," Shanahan said. "Guys are sitting in their hotel rooms and we meet out on the practice field. So, I don't think we're going to get any extra bonding. I do think guys have got to pull together. I think we need each other through this. It's going to be about five more weeks. And hopefully if we do it right, we can make it longer."
Just as the year 2020 has been for everyone, the 49ers will continue to adjust to the challenges thrown their way. While packing up more than 200 players and personnel in a matter of days with the hopes of bringing as much normality to the situation as possible, Shanahan is ready to embrace whatever unexpected hiccups loom in the 49ers foreign setup in Arizona.
"You always expect bumps in the road, no matter what you're doing," Shanahan said. "The biggest bump is the shock of finding out how long it was a day before we played. I think our guys are pretty good once they heard the parameters of stuff and adjusting and just dealing with whatever, especially this year. And we're used to getting away for a week or so, but I can't tell you how sick of each other we are after a week in a hotel. Usually that week is good and we play better, but then after that week, guys need to get home.
"A week's not the daunting thing, it's the month of December that guys get a little overwhelmed with. I'm just trying to get guys to not think of it that way, even though the dates say that. I'm just trying to take it one week at a time."