49ers' goal after earning top seed: 'Move forward to the Super Bowl'

SEATTLE -- Moments after an enormous road win against the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan stood inside a jubilant locker room and grabbed his team's attention. Like everyone else in the room, Shanahan wore a big smile, proud of what his team had just accomplished.

As Shanahan unfurled the league-issued NFC West division champions shirt, his tone quickly shifted. The red shirt carried an important message that immediately resonated with Shanahan. Emblazoned in big, white letters was a simple statement: "The West Is Not Enough."

For a Niners team that finished 4-12 a year ago and hadn't won the division since 2012, the West would seem to be more than enough. But that's not the standard these Niners have set in a magical 2019 season.

"Even wearing these shirts and this hat, we've still got unfinished business," running back Raheem Mostert said. "Like our shirts say, the West isn't enough. We really want to go after the NFC championship and go move forward to the Super Bowl."

San Francisco's dramatic 26-21 win at CenturyLink Field on Sunday night not only ended a miserable string of losses in Seattle but brought with it everything the Niners had hoped to attain from the start of the season. Because of their head-to-head wins against the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints, the 13-3 49ers claimed the division crown, the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

All of those rewards are worthwhile, but none probably matter as much as the one other spoil the Niners took home from Seattle: a first-round bye.

At this time of year, every team has its share of injuries, but there aren't many that have the combination of attrition and fatigue that the 49ers do. The Niners have lost starters such as center Weston Richburg, defensive tackle D.J. Jones and linebacker Kwon Alexander as well as a handful of key reserves. Although there's still a chance Alexander could return from his torn pectoral at some point, probably not any sooner than the NFC Championship Game, none of the others will play again this season.

This week, Shanahan's plan is to get some work in on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with days off Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday before returning to work on Monday of next week. That should allow players such as safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs), defensive end Dee Ford (quad and hamstring) and guard Mike Person (neck) to get closer to full strength and potentially be available for the divisional round, if not sooner. Shanahan said Monday he was hopeful and optimistic those three players would be ready to go for the divisional game on Jan. 11.

Beyond that, the bye week provides a much-needed breather for the rest of the Niners, who last had a bye in Week 4, the earliest possible week off for an NFL team.

"This is very important," said free safety Jimmie Ward, who briefly left Sunday's game because of an ankle injury before returning. "We got some guys banged up. Everybody around the league has some guys banged up. Just to give us that week of rest and we can sit back and watch our opponents and get that extra time to prepare for the next game. It's big."

How big? Well, no team that didn't have a first-round bye has reached the Super Bowl, let alone win it, since the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.

Had the 49ers lost to the Seahawks, they would have entered the postseason as the No. 5 seed with a wild card. The 2010 Packers were the last non-division winner to earn a Super Bowl berth. In the past 25 years, 39 of the 50 Super Bowl participants were either a No. 1 or 2 seed, a stat that makes sense given that teams with a bye not only play at home but also have to win only twice to reach the big game.

Because rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw stopped Seattle tight end Jacob Hollister an inch or two short of a winning touchdown, that historical context has no impact on the Niners.

"I'm just excited to see who we play and excited to play at home and excited to win the division," tackle Joe Staley said. "But this is not anywhere near our end goals."

It was, however, a big step in the right direction to reaching them.