First win took too long, but lack of fissures bodes well for 49ers' future

"I think any other team in the NFL, if they have a record like ours, you can just see teams rip themselves apart," 49ers tight end Garrett Celek, left, with QB C.J. Beathard, said. Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Much like their first victory, the San Francisco 49ers' bye week took too long to make its arrival. But if there's been one benefit to having both occur in such short order, it's this: The Niners got to enjoy the spoils of their first win a little longer than usual.

As the 49ers begin this week of preparation for the Seattle Seahawks coming off the latest bye the NFL allows, they return fresh, rested and still wearing smiles on their faces from their first victory under coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.

“I got that monkey off my back," Shanahan said. "Now I have to get my second one or that will eventually be a monkey, too. That was just one win, but it definitely felt good and we worked hard for it. That’s not what our goal was. We’ve got a lot of goals ahead of us.”

While it's certainly important to keep the Niners' first victory in perspective, the thing that bodes better for the team's future than a single win against a dismal opponent is how they arrived at that win.

As the Niners endured loss after loss to open the season, eventually starting 0-9 for the first time in franchise history, there never seemed to be a time where the pratfalls that go with such losing permeated the locker room. No fingers were ever pointed in a public forum, whether after another in the string of an NFL-record five consecutive losses by three or fewer points or a blowout defeat at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys.

“I think any other team in the NFL, if they have a record like ours, you can just see teams rip themselves apart," tight end Garrett Celek said. "The types of guys that are in this locker room that John and Kyle brought in are so tight."

Unlike the team the 49ers beat, the New York Giants, there were no reports of anyone's job being in danger or anonymous players talking about how foul the culture had become. Yes, the Niners are in the first year of a rebuild under Shanahan and Lynch, and yes, that's a much different spot than where the Giants are. It's still instructive to note that the 49ers never fractured in the face of so many disheartening losses.

"No one’s ever wavered, no one’s ever pointed fingers," left tackle Joe Staley said. "We’ve all just kind of buckled down. That’s a tribute to Kyle and the leadership group that he brought in with the front office and his coaching staff. And then also the veteran players, it’s really keeping the guys, keeping everybody locked in, because you’re not going to win games, you’re not going to turn things around by pointing fingers. And I think guys really bought in, guys really believed and I’m really excited to see where we go from here."

In a survey of about a dozen players in the locker room, not one expressed a sentiment any different from Staley's. Sure, there was frustration; that's only natural given the record. Still, none could offer an example where they questioned one another. Safety Eric Reid said he never considered the possibility of going 0-16, and linebacker Eli Harold said keeping the locker room together in the face of adversity has been "effortless."

So how did the Niners avoid even one notable incident of infighting? Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell pointed to Shanahan's emphasis on being "like a shark."

"A lot of it is just having the right mindset, having the type of guys who will stay the same regardless," Mitchell said. "At the end of the day, if you have the right guys in your locker room -- and I feel like we do -- you have a really good chance of putting anybody out there and winning a game on any given Sunday."

In any rebuild, there are always going to be more bad times that come before the good. To be sure, the 49ers are nowhere near past the rough patches. More are on the way. The good news is they've proved they can handle a losing streak unprecedented in franchise history without having it break them apart.

Clearly, there's still a ton of work needed to make the Niners a contender again. Much of that will come in the offseason. For now, the team's continued emphasis on culture seems to be working. The next step is to turn that into something more tangible.

“I think you form that closeness or that brotherhood, whatever it is, you form it from the beginning and all the way to the end," Shanahan said. "I've been on a lot of teams where things are going well and everyone talks about how tight they are, and then you lose two games in a row and you start to realize some of the people you were tight with you didn't know them as well as you thought. That [closeness] happened with us from the beginning and it’s gone on for a long time. By no means is everything perfect and every relationship perfect, but you battle through things together.

"We've had a lot of good and bad here, and I think the guys really do believe [in] each other. I think the guys, you can't get through this stuff unless everyone's pulling each other or helping each other out. Not one person could change this. We needed everyone to change it. ... And I plan on that making us better. I hope we can come back next week and be better from it and continue to get better throughout the year, and I hope that leads into something for next year.”