SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Cornerback Charvarius Ward is only one season and three games into his San Francisco 49ers career, but he can already rattle off the team's recent record of slow starts and the importance of rectifying them.
"I think the last time this team went 3-0 was 2019, that was the year the 49ers went to the Super Bowl, right?" Ward said. "We have the same aspirations. The 49ers always finish strong. ... So, I just feel like start fast, finish fast we'll be pretty good for the playoffs."
Such modern history lessons have been a common talking point in the 49ers' locker room for most of the offseason and, especially, in the run up to the start of the regular season. Which is why, after Thursday's 30-12 win against the New York Giants, the Niners weren't shy about acknowledging the significance of being 3-0 with a little extra rest before a Week 4 home matchup against the Arizona Cardinals (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday, Levi's Stadium, Fox).
As Ward could tell you, the 49ers are 3-0 for the first time since 2019. They won eight in a row to start that season to eventually grab homefield advantage and advance to Super Bowl LIV where, coincidentally, they lost to Ward -- who was with the Kansas City Chiefs at the time. Reaching 3-0 again might not seem like a monumental accomplishment, but this is only San Francisco's second 3-0 start in the past 25 seasons. The Niners are also one of three undefeated teams left with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Miami Dolphins.
"That's the goal and real happy to be 3-0 right now," coach Kyle Shanahan said. "It's really cool to do it after a Thursday night game. There's not many times in the NFL where you get enjoy a win more than just that night. So it's always cool when you win on Thursdays. I told the guys if they want to win and have a weekend off, we got to earn it, and those guys did. Now you can sit back and relax a little bit, kind of enjoy how these last three weeks have gone and be ready to go [back to work]."
The Niners' emphasis on starting fast isn't just about jumping out to a good record or establishing an NFC West lead. To the 49ers, a fast start could mean the difference between a top seed and homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs (like in 2019) or another long, difficult road back to the Super Bowl. It's a lesson they've learned the hard way the past two seasons.
In 2021, San Francisco started 2-4, didn't get their third win until Oct. 31, eventually fell to 3-5 and had to rip off a 7-2 finish that included a big second-half comeback in Week 18 against the Los Angeles Rams just to qualify for the postseason. Once there, the Niners pulled off road victories against the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers before running out of gas against the Rams on the road in the NFC Championship Game.
In 2022, the Niners opened 1-2 with bad losses to the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos. They didn't get their third win until Oct. 9 and eventually dipped to 3-4 after a home loss to the Chiefs. They went on to win 10 straight to close the season (a regular season streak that has grown to 13) but could only climb to the No. 2 seed in the NFC and had to go to Philadelphia for the NFC Championship Game, which they lost after quarterback Brock Purdy suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right shoulder early in the first quarter.
So far, there has been no early-season malaise. Shanahan's message about the importance of a fast start has been clearly received. But with a long weekend to recharge and reflect on what they've done so far, the Niners are also making sure to be as critical of themselves as possible.
“Obviously you want to win every game, but we have a high standard," Purdy said. "We have a standard that we want to be the best versions of ourselves. For us it's sort of like, yeah, we win the game, which is most important and is great, but there's stuff out there that we can clean up and be better at. That's the standard that we have here. We have 14 more games to do that, to be the best versions of ourselves and clean things up. We're going to take it one day at a time, but it's huge for us to be 3-0 and have momentum."
It's hard to find too much fault in a team that is not only unblemished through three weeks but is averaging 30 points per game and winning those contests by an average of 16 points. But Purdy is right in that there is plenty to clean up.
At the top of the list is the 49ers' penchant for penalties. They have been flagged for 28 overall (tied for sixth-most in the NFL going into Monday night), with 23 accepted for 213 yards, an average of 7.7 and 71 per game, respectively. Five of those infractions are of the 15-yard variety, including three for unnecessary roughness, one for illegal hands to the face and another for grabbing the facemask.
Despite their production, the offense also believes it has squandered several opportunities. That starts with the need to improve in the red zone, where the Niners are scoring touchdowns on just 53.8% of their trips inside the opponent's 20, 20th in the league heading into Monday. Defensively, the Niners would also like to be better in the red zone. Opponents have six drives inside San Francisco's 20 and have scored four touchdowns, a 66.7% conversion rate that's tied for 21st. Even the special teams, which have been mostly excellent, could stand to improve in kick coverage, where they're allowing 25.4 yards per return, ninth-most.
Improvement in any or all of those areas could take San Francisco to even greater heights and will almost certainly be necessary, especially as the strength of their schedule increases in the coming weeks.
"To start, nobody's satisfied," linebacker Fred Warner said. "I think there's so much room for improvement. You can watch the tape and there's little things all over the place that every single guy can get better at, and we got a long way to go from the team that we want to be going forward."