It was an amazing ride. And to put it in perspective, I go back to July when, during training camp, a talk with Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sort of set the outlook for the 49ers.
Barrows, whose astute and insightful coverage of the team stands among the best of any NFL beat writer, said that a look at the schedule for the ’11 season and the fact that the new coaching staff had such a limited time to prepare that it was going to be very tough on a team in transition.
The thinking was, Barrows said, the first part of the season was going to be all about survival. After a home opener against Seattle, in came Dallas, followed by road games at Cincinnati and Philadelphia and another two weeks later in Detroit.
If the Niners survived that stretch at 2-6, then they still had a chance for the division title because of the presumed weakness of the NFC West.
Well, save for a blown coverage in overtime against Dallas, the Niners opened the season with a 5-1 mark, stretched it to 9-1 and then came in as 13-3, the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
No one saw it coming. But then it says a lot for general manager Trent Baalke, head coach Jim Harbaugh and staff that they recognized the talent inherent to the roster and built around it.
The Niners might have had the best draft class of 2011. They certainly used their defensive talent to utmost benefit and the special teams were best of class.
With that, here’s a rundown of honors, awards, distinctions (good and bad) and an outlook for 2012.