The San Francisco 49ers didn’t need any hype — they’re creating their own

It’s always easy to handle the hype when there isn’t any hype at all. Pro football’s circles of chatter weren’t prepared to give the San Francisco 49ers any real credit for beginning the season 3-0, the doubters gleefully pointing out that their first trio of opponents had been a combined 3-9.

But after picking apart the Cleveland Browns 31-3 on Monday night, it’s time to take notice, and here’s a bold announcement: the 49ers are worthy of your attention. San Francisco might not be Super Bowl bound or even quite as good as their perfect record suggests, but they’re going to be a relevant football team this season.

Something a little bit strange and perhaps a bit magical is happening on the West side of the Bay (and South a good portion, thanks to the 49ers’ still-new home in Santa Clara), and football fans should pay heed. The 49ers are far, far better than anyone expected. They’re playing with smiles on their faces, they’re full of well-earned confidence, and they’re generally having a grand old time right now.

The New England Patriots are the only other undefeated team at this stage of the season — and no, the 49ers are not playing at that exalted level. However, in Foxborough you don’t see pre-game sideline proposals like defensive lineman D.J. Jones gave us on Monday night. Flag-planting celebrations like Nick Bosa’s long-awaited revenge act on Baker Mayfield might not fly under the Bill Belichick regime. And how long has it been since every piece of news coming out of the 49ers camp was this positive?

Perhaps not since the last time there was a similar red-hot start to a San Francisco season, and even that has a neat symmetry to it. The last time the 49ers began 4-0 was 29 years ago, when an NFC Championship game-bound team led by Joe Montana notched its fourth win — also on Oct. 7 coming off a Week 4 bye.

En route to this year’s fourth straight win, Matt Breida recorded an insane speed of 22.3 mph on an 83-yard touchdown run to bust the game open. But he’s not the only one going places in a hurry. The 49ers are, too. Just what is going on here?

“The most important thing about the start of this season is that it’s brought some joy back to being a Niners fan,” longtime fan Chris Rivers told me after Monday’s game. “It has just been so enjoyable and fun. In truth, we know this isn’t the most talented roster we’ve ever seen, but they’re going to win games because they’re hungry, happy and fearless.”

The real sizzle comes from the San Francisco defense, a marauding troupe of speedy, aggressive hunters who have restricted their opponents to an NFC-lowest 57 total points and shut down the Browns completely. Mayfield looked woeful and had stats to match: 8-for-22, 100 yards, two interceptions. But it would be a mistake to think that the second-year Browns QB’s miserable night was entirely of his own making.

San Francisco’s seven interceptions are tied for most in the league, and that’s no accident. Guided by general manager John Lynch, himself a former all-pro safety, they have gone defense heavy in the draft these past few seasons and it’s now paying dividends. Bosa was the No. 2 draft choice this spring and has adapted seamlessly, his trolling skills matched by a physical presence that spawns permanent QB discomfort.

DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead and Dee Thomas combine to form a defensive line that resembles a brick wall, shoving the much-hyped Browns to a 2-3 record.

“We had better give San Francisco some credit,” FS1’s Cris Carter said on First Things First. “Because we might get to December and look back and say ‘man, did we miss it?’ We are going to be on this TV a lot on Sundays and Mondays talking about how San Francisco made another offensive line look bad. Because right now that defensive line is on par to be the best we have in the NFL.”

On offense, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppalo is holding things together well, if not spectacularly, while the undrafted Breida has emerged as the most pleasant of running surprises. “We’re a physical team,” Garoppolo said. “We know it and we just want to prove it to everybody.”

Not everyone is fully sold yet, but a glance at the schedule suggests that this season by the Bay might have some potential to turn into something truly special. Facing the Rams on the road and on a short week will be a significant and worthy test in Week 6. Rest assured: if the 49ers win that one, then the hype machine will be in full force, with three of their next five games against the tragic Washington Redskins and the Arizona Cardinals (twice).

In any case, who would have thought that in mid-October we’d be talking about this Rams-49ers matchup as a game Los Angeles needed to win to avoid getting left in the dust in the NFC West?

“You don’t worry about it,” cornerback Richard Sherman told reporters. “You want idiots to sound like idiots, but you want them to hold their position the whole year. Like, don’t flip-flop with us. If you said we weren’t going to make it, if you said (that) way early on, just stick with that position. Hold it. Don’t try to give us credit now.”

Sherman probably isn’t going to get what he wants. The 49ers are winning people over and they’re going to get attention. They’re on the radar, but because of those tempered early expectations, they’re still not on the clock. They’re in the enviable position of being able to play with some freedom. And we’ll be watching — not just because they’re good, but because they’re interesting.