SANTA CLARA – The 49ers have not played a lot of important games in the past five seasons. But it is the year that changes.
Coach Kyle Shanahan's team is the only unbeaten team to stay in the NFL. They can make an important step towards the franchise's top league title since 2012 with a win Monday night against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi's Stadium.
The 49ers can take a three-game lead in the losing streak against Seattle and the Los Angeles Rams. But a defeat would mean the Seahawks would only be one game behind the 49ers and remain undefeated in the NFC West with a rematch against the 49ers of the 17th week in Seattle.
"Our team knows where we are and I do not have to stay there to explain them," said Shanahan on the 49ers Insider podcast. "We have guys who are not there for the ride. This kind of thing means a lot to our players, from the first to the last player.
"We have footballers on our premises and they are not just there to say that they are football players. They want to win, they want to work there every week. They know we have done a lot of work to seize this opportunity. But this is only the beginning.
The start of the 2019 season marks a spectacular start to the two seasons since Shanahan and his general manager John Lynch took over with the 49ers. The 49ers opened the doors from 0 to 9 in 2017, and were from 1 to 7 last year.
But with more wins, different problems arise, said Shanahan.
"We've had very bad records here in the last two years, especially to start," Shanahan said. "And when you have between 1 and 6 or between 0 and 8, it does not matter, people think it's the most stressful thing in the world, what it is. It's pretty miserable.
"But 8-0 is not very different. Eight and oh does not mean anything. It means you have an opportunity, but it's getting harder and harder. "
The 49ers are at the heart of a five-year playoff drought. After the team's best start since 1990, many expectations for the 49ers did not exist in recent seasons.
"There is more pressure because you do not want to ruin it," Shanahan said. "We were lucky to be where we are and now we have to make sure we play in the playoffs. Every game counts. "
Even beyond a West NFC title, the 49ers aim to win enough games to earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The 49ers can also look for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
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"We have to improve every week if we want to do what we want to do," Shanahan said. "I know by my story of being in this league, at the end of the year, only one team is happy. And I was never happy at the end of the year.
"Eight and oh, that's nice. We enjoy it so far. But it is only the beginning. We have many things ahead of us and we will only be happy if it ends in a way. "