TAMPA — John Lynch was driving into work Tuesday morning, listening to the fallout on the radio from the Rams' 54-51 win over the Chiefs. The nine-time Pro Bowl safety remains a defensive player at heart, which ached to think this what the league has become.
"People are asking is this the greatest regular-season game in the history of the NFL?" said Lynch, a star on the Bucs' Super Bowl champion team.
"Someone like me thinks 'absolutely not.' ''
Lynch, 47, actually is changing with the game. A member of the No. 2 NFL broadcast team at FOX, a year ago he stunned the league establishment by becoming the 49ers general manager despite no front office experience.
Well, none that is documented.
Lynch said he was a secret draft geek as a player.
"It used to drive (my wife) Linda crazy. It was like, 'you're kidding me. Are you going to stay home for three days and watch a draft?' " Lynch recalled. "I would try all the old mock stuff and I would sit there and try to predict the fourth round.
"And then when I was living in Denver, I became close with (John) Elway and he came from a background similar and took over the Broncos. He and I were good buddies then, so right from the very beginning, he said, 'Hey, help me out. Give me another set of eyes.' ''
When Kyle Shanahan, then the Falcons offensive coordinator, was the front runner for the 49ers head coaching job, Lynch called to congratulate him on Atlanta's playoff win over Seattle.
"He was focused on what he was doing with Atlanta but said, 'Yeah, that's an exciting opportunity. I just want to find a GM I can work with that I'm like-minded with.' I kind of threw out, "Hey, you know, what about me?'"
Shanahan hung up, called back the next day and asked "Hey, would you ever really consider that?''
A few days later, after meeting with the 49ers and then flying to Atlanta to huddle with Shanahan, Lynch was the GM.
In his first season, mired in a 0-8 start, he pulled off a trade of the year by sending a second-round pick to the New England Patriots for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who won the final five games of 2017.
The 49ers were 1-1 when Garoppolo tore his ACL in a loss to the Chiefs in Week 3.
It doesn't help that the 49ers are in the same division as the 10-1 Rams, who share the NFC's best record with New Orleans.
Lynch says the migration of spread concepts from high school and college, coupled with rules changes have led to the offensive explosion.
He recalled some advice Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott gave him at Stanford: People can't come in your zone and not pay a price.
"When you do that, half the battle is won before the game ever starts," Lynch said, adding with regret "any fear or intimidation has been eliminated from the game because of these rules and so you put all that together and it's very tough on defenses."
The Niners are tied with the Bucs for 19th in the league with 25 sacks this season. But they have one fewer takeaway (5) than Tampa Bay (6).
It's Lynch's job to help change that. Earlier this week, he had just gotten out of a half-year budget meeting and admits he wasn't ready for everything to eventually cross his desk. But the hardest part is watching on Sunday.
"I can't do a dang thing,'' Lynch said. "That's a helpless feeling for me because I'm always used to being able to have a hand in the outcome. … How do you deal with that?''
A flood of memories will follow Lynch into Raymond James Stadium. Some regrets, too.
"Although we have one championship, we left some out there," said Lynch, who was inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor last year. "But we'll always celebrate that one.
"I remember all the good things, but I also remember the struggles of what it took to get there. That allows me to know that hey, we're going through some tough times, but if you do things the right way you will turn this around as well.''
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud