Niners' Strange Third-Game Pattern Defies Explanation

San Francisco has failed to win every third game this season and now goes into NFC title game with two wins in a row and hoping to break its form

All season, it’s been a wacky pattern that defies explanation.

How can a team as strong as the 49ers not have more than a two-game winning streak? Why have the Niners failed to win every third game they’ve played?

And the biggest question of all: Will the third-game curse be in effect this Sunday when the 49ers travel to Atlanta to play the No. 1 seeded Falcons in the NFC Championship Game?

After losing to the Seattle Seahawks on a Sunday night on Dec. 23, the 49ers have rebounded with a win over Arizona in the regular-season finale and then last week’s divisional-round playoff victory over Green Bay. Now comes Game No. 3 – as well as a potential double whammy, with the “Sports Illustrated curse.” Head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick are on the cover of this week’s magazine.

Though the 49ers looked like potential Super Bowl champs with their big win over the Packers last week, past performance means nothing when it comes to this season’s weird every-third-game pratfall.

The loss in Seattle came after the 49ers had dominated the New England Patriots; the loss to the Rams in St. Louis on Dec. 2 came after consecutive impressive victories over the Saints and Bears.

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle last week said one common thread to most of the losses (and tie) was the 49ers came up short against hard-running teams: the Vikings and Adrian Peterson in Game 3, the Giants and Ahmad Bradshaw in Game 6, the Rams and Steven Jackson (twice) and the Seahawks and Marshawn Lynch in in Game 15.

This week, the Niners will face a Falcons team that prefers to pass with quarterback Matt Ryan than pound the ball with Michael Turner – though Turner is certainly a running back who can pound, if given the opportunity.

Randy Cross, a former standout guard for the 49ers and now an NFL analyst for CBS, told Bruce Newman of the Bay Area News Group that the pattern likely holds little weight for the players on the team. It’s the least of their concerns and has nothing to do with the task at hand.

“Your brain just doesn’t work like that when you’re playing week to week,” Cross told Newman. “The only thing they have to think about, and the only way that they do think, is about a one-game winning streak. Three one-game winning streaks, that’s all it takes (for the Niners to get to the Super Bowl, and win it).”

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat wrote this week that the 49ers suffer from Third Game Syndrome, and calls it the “X factor” of the team’s season.

“No one can pinpoint the cause of TGS, although some have tried,” he wrote this week. “In their 12 wins, the 49ers beat their opponents by an average of 17.3 points, but in every third game, the 49ers were outscored by an average of 15.2 points.”

As Cross noted, however, the 49ers don’t care. Their focus is on shutting down the Falcons and putting enough points on the board on offense to earn a trip to the Super Bowl.

“We’re not really aware of that,” safety Donte Whitner told Cohn. “We don’t worry about that. It doesn’t really matter. I think it’s just a coincidence.”

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