The 49ers may be 0-3, but over the past two weeks they’ve shown sparks of energy. They nearly pulled off an upset win in Seattle — where they haven’t won since 2011 — and then saw their offense come alive in a 41-39 shootout loss to the Rams.
Now, however, that energy will be severely tested.
The 49ers will play three straight games on the road and four of the next five. After a short trip to Arizona for this Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, the Niners will fly to Indianapolis and Washington the following two weeks, return home for a game against Dallas and then fly back across country to take on Philadelphia.
The 49ers will at least be better rested than the Cardinals on Sunday, coming off a Thursday night game Sept. 21 while Arizona (1-2) is coming off a loss to the Cowboys on Monday night. But, Arizona also will test the 49ers pass defense — picked apart last week by the Rams’ Jared Goff — with its fourth-ranked aerial attack. Veteran Carson Palmer is throwing for 284 yards per game and has a dangerous receiving duo in Larry Fitzgerald and J.J. Nelson.
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan this week told reporters that he’s spoken to his team about this upcoming stretch and how they’ll be challenged. He knows, too, that his ability to keep his players motivated and focused on improving each week will be key.
“I told them, ‘When you’re 0-3 and you’re facing some adversity, you either get better or worse,’ ” said Shanahan. “If you have mentally strong people, I believe we can get better from all this stuff and I believe we do have the right guys in the room. I don’t really care about the record right now. I care about how guys are responding to it.”
As Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee noted, the 49ers’ travel schedule over the next three weeks will be exhausting. Because the team will fly to Arizona, Indianapolis and Washington — and then fly back before their next game — they will travel 9,920 miles, which will be more miles than six NFL teams will travel all season.
Sunday’s game at Arizona is set to kick off at 1:05 p.m.