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49ers determined to ditch old habits, start fast in 2023

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SANTA CLARA — The 49ers entered the playoffs last year on a 10-game winning streak.

But as they prepare for Week 1 on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, what’s most fresh in their minds is how they opened the 2022 NFL season.

The 49ers are taking measures to avoid the early bumps in the road that have plagued the team the past two seasons.

In 2021, the 49ers won just three of their first eight games and needed a comeback win at the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18 to qualify for the playoffs.

Last year, the 49ers opened the season with a 3-4 record before making a late push for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Starting faster has been a point of emphasis for coach Kyle Shanahan.

“Yeah, Kyle mentioned it,” 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel said on Monday. “Last year if we get one of those two games against the Broncos or the Bears, we have a first-week (postseason) bye.

“I can go back to 2019, having that first-week bye is everything, just to take care of your body and give your mind an extra week to prepare for a game.”

The 49ers dropped their Week 1 game at Chicago, 19-10, for one of only three Bears victories. Two weeks later, the five-win Denver Broncos beat the 49ers, 11-10, on "Sunday Night Football."

The 49ers finished one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC to enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed. It meant the 49ers had to hit the road for the second season in a row for the NFC Championship Game.

Samuel said the team has not tried to do much differently. The focus has been on the little details.

But last week, the 49ers had an unusually difficult practice after the team made its cuts to the mandatory 53-man roster.

“It was kind of surprising,” Samuel said. “I mentioned it to Kyle the day after the practice. ‘Whoa, I didn’t expect a high day after the day off.’

“It’s just  the mindset and the mentality we have here as a whole. No matter what it is, we’re going out here and do our best every day.”

Samuel said he is excited to play a meaningful game against an opponent after practicing repeatedly against the 49ers’ defense. He said he believes that daily competition has set up the offense for a big season.

“It prepares us very well, knowing our defense knows the plays we run,” he said. “Sometimes we get them here and there, it shows the improvement of our offense.”

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