There's been a sort of waiting game with the San Francisco 49ers this season. A game of everyone around the football world waiting for them to fail.
Waiting for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's play to fall off a cliff. It hasn't.
Waiting for cornerback Richard Sherman to slow down. He looks like the Sherman of old.
Waiting for the defense to slip. It keeps getting stronger and more dominant, the way Superman does when approaching a yellow sun.
Waiting for coach Kyle Shanahan to become Freddie Kitchens. Not happening.
We keep waiting for something to break, something to slow down, something to falter, and it just doesn't. Not only does that not occur, but the 49ers also keep getting badder ass and stronger and more threatening. They keep busting the nose of every opponent they play.
The Panthers were supposed to be the biggest threat the 49ers have faced this year. They have the best running back in football in Christian McCaffrey, a quarterback (Kyle Allen) who came in at 4-0 and a solid defense. At 4-2 before the 49ers game, they seemed like a possible playoff team.
So what happened? Well, McCaffrey got his, with 117 rushing yards, a rushing touchdown, a two-point conversion and 38 receiving yards. He was spectacular. But McCaffrey is always spectacular, and he always gets his.
Other than that, it was all 49ers. If this was a test, they passed it like it had been paid for by Felicity Huffman, thoroughly beating down the Panthers 51-13. At 7-0—one of two undefeated teams in the league, along with New England—San Francisco showed on Sunday that it is likely the best team in the NFC.
But this team is a powerhouse. The 49ers are not frauds. They are not living on a soft schedule. In fact, no one should mention the word "soft" and this team. They are fast, smart, ferocious and belligerent. They are the greatest threat to the Patriots, who seem all but a lock to reach the Super Bowl.
The seven touchdowns are the most by the 49ers since 2003, and the 51 points are the most for the franchise since 1993.
This team also just added receiver Emmanuel Sanders, too.
One of the lasting images from this game is defensive lineman Nick Bosa plucking the football out of the air after Allen threw it and barreling down the field like Roger Craig as Panthers players tried to tackle him, looking like toddlers chasing their dad in the backyard.
The Bosa play, and others, illustrate why this team is a problem. It feels like someone different dominates each week. The 49ers are not dependent on any one player like the Carolina Christian McCaffreys. They attack you from every angle, every corner, every piece of turf.
Take the running game. Tevin Coleman had four touchdowns (against a solid Carolina defense) on Sunday. The only other 49er to do that since the 1970 merger is Jerry Rice (twice). Coleman added 105 rushing yards. And Matt Breida had another 35 on the ground. And Raheem Mostert had 60. The trio's combined 200 yards brought their season total to 1,087. It's a different one of the three beating you each week. Or all three.
Or the defense. It's not just Bosa. They had three interceptions and seven sacks Sunday. Allen entered the game with no interceptions. He never had a chance.
The 49ers can punch a button on a console and jump into hyperspace.
The one thing that will be held against the 49ers is Garoppolo. Yet he shouldn't be. He makes mistakes, but he also plays within himself and the system. He may not play like Tom Brady, but he doesn't need to.
Garoppolo was 18-of-22 for 175 yards, two touchdowns and one interception Sunday. That's an 81.8 completion percentage and a 111.2 passer rating.
It may not seem like it, but he's getting better. He will have to. One day, likely in the playoffs, this team will need him to win a game.
For now, for right now, he's part of a football machine.
A San Francisco meat grinder.