Joe Montana was throwing passes to Jerry Rice the last time the San Francisco 49ers were 7-0 to start a season.
That was way back in 1990, and this year’s group of Niners has a chance to match that Bay Area powerhouse when they take on the streaking Carolina Panthers on Sunday in one of the meaty matchups of Week 8.
“You get better or you get worse, you don’t stay the same,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “As this year goes, it gets harder and harder. And, we’ve got to make sure as it gets harder, we have to get better if we want to meet our own expectations.”
They think they did exactly that earlier this week by acquiring speedy wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from Denver along with a fifth-round draft pick for 2020 third- and fourth-round picks.
Sanders gives Jimmy Garoppolo an experienced veteran to throw to, and not having a proven No. 1 wide receiver was perhaps the biggest hole on the 49ers’ roster through the early stretch of the season.
“We feel he’s a guy who can come in and help us a lot this year and we’ll see where it goes for him after that,” Shanahan said.
The 49ers are focused on right now, and they’ll face a Panthers team that has won four in a row and is in search of its first five-game winning streak since winning 18 straight regular-season games in 2014-15.
And, they’re doing it without star quarterback Cam Newton. Instead, Kyle Allen has taken control and done nothing but win. Including a victory last season as a rookie, Allen is the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win his first five starts without throwing an interception.
“The more he plays, the more comfortable he gets and the more his confidence builds,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
But, Allen will certainly face a tough test going up against the 49ers’ No. 2 overall defense — which also ranks No. 1 in the NFL against the pass.
“This is a very good football team we’re going to be playing against,” Rivera said. “They’re 6-0 for a reason. You put the tape on, you see a lot of good things that they do.”
Week 8 began Thursday night with Minnesota’s 19-9 home victory over Washington.
Dalvin Cook had 171 total yards and the game’s only touchdown, helping Kirk Cousins beat his old team on the first try.
Cook rushed 23 times for 98 yards and caught five passes for 73 yards for the Vikings (6-2) in their fourth straight victory.
Cousins went 23 for 26 for 285 yards without a turnover against the Redskins (1-7), who drafted him in 2012 and made him the full-time starter in 2015. Case Keenum, the quarterback Cousins replaced, had his return to Minnesota spoiled by a concussion that kept him out of the second half.
Baltimore (5-2) and Dallas (4-3) are both off this week.
ARIZONA (3-3-1) at NEW ORLEANS (6-1)
It could mark the return of Drew Brees, who has said “the plan” is for him to be back this week for the Saints after missing five weeks with a thumb injury.
Teddy Bridgewater certainly did a fine job filling in, going 5-0 in Brees’ place. The defense has also been a big reason the Saints have continued to march on, holding four straight opponents to 257 or fewer yards.
They’ll take on the Cardinals and dynamic rookie Kyler Murray, who ranks second among quarterbacks with 266 yards rushing. Chase Edmonds is also coming off the first 100-yard rushing game of his career, going for 126 yards and three touchdown runs last week against the Giants.
CLEVELAND (2-4) at NEW ENGLAND (7-0)
Tom Brady and the Patriots keep rolling, but the Browns aren’t fazed by that. At all.
Just ask wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who declared: “Well, we’re going to win. “We’re going to win. I think it’s just that simple. We get guys back healthy again and we’re going to win.”
Well, Baker Mayfield is going to have to play a lot better than he did during a three-interception performance in a loss to Seattle. He leads the league with 11 picks, and will face a Patriots defense that forced the Jets’ Sam Darnold to turn the ball over five times in New England’s 33-0 rout last Monday night.
Oh, and by the way, Bill Belichick would earn his 300th career victory, including the postseason, with a win over the Browns.
GREEN BAY (6-1) at KANSAS CITY (5-2)
This Sunday night matchup lost some of its luster with Patrick Mahomes sidelined with a dislocated kneecap.
So, it’ll be veteran backup Matt Moore under center for the Chiefs this week, taking on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Moore will make his first start since Nov. 26, 2017, for Miami against New England.
Meanwhile, Rodgers had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 last week in Green Bay’s win over Oakland, going 25 of 31 for 429 yards and five TDs with no interceptions.
SEATTLE (5-2) at ATLANTA (1-6)
For all the talk of the “12th Man” in Seattle giving the Seahawks a huge edge at home, they’ve been even better on the road so far this season.
Russell Wilson and this group of Seahawks are trying to improve to 4-0 away from home for just the second time in franchise history, and first since 1980.
Seattle will face a Falcons team that might not have quarterback Matt Ryan because of a sprained right ankle. If Ryan’s streak of 154 consecutive regular-season starts is snapped, it’ll be Matt Schaub starting for Atlanta. His last start came in 2015 for Baltimore.
PHILADELPHIA (3-4) at BUFFALO (5-1)
The surprising Bills haven’t started 6-1 or better since they opened the 1993 season 7-1. They’ve gotten to this spot in large part because of their comeback ability, with Josh Allen and Co. going 4-1 when tied or trailing in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles are coming off their biggest game of the season so far, an embarrassing 37-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in front of a prime-time audience last Sunday night. Philadelphia will be looking for a better start this week after losing fumbles on its first two possessions, quickly leading to a 14-0 deficit.
OAKLAND (3-3) at HOUSTON (4-3)
When Jon Gruden’s guys lose this season, they really lose. The Raiders have dropped three of their first six games by at least 18 points, including last week’s 42-24 defeat vs. Green Bay, marking the third time in franchise history they have accomplished that dubious feat.
The Texans are also trying to rebound after losing to the Colts 30-23 last week. Deshaun Watson had solid numbers — 308 yards passing, 32 yards rushing — last week, but has thrown four interceptions in his past two games after only one in Houston’s first five.
CINCINNATI (0-7) vs LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-3)
The winless Bengals hope they can turn their fortunes around across the pond at Wembley Stadium.
It’s Cincinnati’s worst start since it opened 0-8 in 2008 under Marvin Lewis, and the seventh time overall the Bengals are 0-7.
The Rams snapped their three-game skid with a blowout win at Atlanta last weekend, and spent the week practicing at Georgia Tech to try to minimize the effects of going all the way from LA to London. Jared Goff hasn’t thrown an interception in his past two games, and also wasn’t sacked last week.
DENVER (2-5) at INDIANAPOLIS (4-2)
The Colts’ Jacoby Brissett was sacked five times in the first two weeks, but has gone down only twice in the last four games.
Next up is Denver’s Von Miller, who has sacked 48 quarterbacks during career — but Brissett isn’t on the list. Yet.
The Broncos’ defense has also been stingy in the red zone lately, not allowing a touchdown on opponents’ last 10 trips.
TAMPA BAY (2-4) at TENNESSEE (3-4)
Jameis Winston is coming off the second 400-yard passing performance of his career with the Buccaneers, but also threw five interceptions and lost a fumble during Tampa Bay’s 11-point loss to Carolina in London two weeks ago.
The last time these teams squared off, it marked first time in NFL history that the top two picks in the draft — Winston and the Titans’ Marcus Mariota — met as rookies in Week 1 in 2015. This time around, Mariota is on the bench in favor of Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 312 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Tennessee tied a franchise record by not allowing more than 20 points in any game through its first seven games.
NEW YORK GIANTS (2-5) at DETROIT (2-3-1)
Both teams enter this matchup struggling while on three-game losing streaks.
Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones has thrown one touchdown pass in each of his last four games, but also has seven interceptions during that span. Golden Tate, playing his fourth game for New York, will face his former team after spending 4 1/2 seasons with the Lions.
The Giants’ secondary could have its hands full after Detroit wide receiver Marvin Jones had four touchdown catches last week, joining Jerry Rice and Sterling Sharpe as the only players in NFL history with two such games.
NEW YORK JETS (1-5) at JACKSONVILLE (3-4)
Darnold is looking to rebound in a big way after saying he was “seeing ghosts” with New England’s blitz-happy defense making things miserable for him and the Jets last Monday night. The second-year quarterback threw four interceptions, lost a fumble and also batted a ball out of the end zone for a safety in the loss.
Darnold and the Jets won’t get much of a reprieve this week against a Jaguars defense that allowed 291 yards in a 10-point victory at Cincinnati last week, and pressured Andy Dalton into three fourth-quarter interceptions.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (2-5) at CHICAGO (3-3)
The Chargers are trying to avoid going 0-4 in October for the first time since 2000, and have lost three straight by seven points or fewer.
Philip Rivers’ team has had a long week trying to get over its stinging 23-20 loss at Tennessee in which the Chargers thought they scored the go-ahead touchdown twice in the final 44 seconds, only to lose both on replay reviews.
The Bears hope to see improvement from Mitchell Trubisky, who threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns last week after missing a game with a left shoulder injury.
MIAMI (0-6) at PITTSBURGH (2-4)
The Dolphins are making their NFL-record 85th “Monday Night Football” appearance, and are 42-42 all time. This, however, isn’t one of their better teams.
Miami has lost nine straight, dating to last season, and Ryan Fitzpatrick will make his second start since replacing the benched Josh Rosen at quarterback.
Mason Rudolph is expected to be under center for the Steelers after he missed Pittsburgh’s win over the Chargers on Oct. 13 with a concussion.
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