Defenses playing against the San Francisco 49ers the last 11 games have been beat in all types of ways. But they’ve all learned one inevitable thing about head coach Kyle Shanahan’s unit: Ultimately, the 49ers will force you to break.
There are simply too many weapons on this offense.
“It’s a matter of how long they can take it,” wide receiver Deebo Samuel said on the FOX broadcast after the 49ers routed the Seattle Seahawks 41-23 in the NFC Wild Card round on Saturday. They will host the next-highest remaining seed in the NFC during next weekend’s divisional round.
Brock Purdy made history by becoming the first rookie QB to record four total touchdowns in a playoff game (three passing, one rushing). The last pick of the 2022 draft, Purdy has been more than impressive since assuming the starting role from the injured Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s had multiple passing touchdowns in all six of his wins and is the first rookie to accomplish that feat.
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What has made Purdy look like the second coming of Tom Brady is an embarrassment of riches surrounding him. Any quarterback would put up numbers with receivers like Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. The mid-season acquisition of Christian McCaffrey was looking mighty fine as the running back ran through a massive hole on the left side for 68 yards on the team’s second drive; he scored four plays later on a 3-yard pass from Purdy. One of the most creative and sharpest offensive minds in the game calls the plays.
In the first half, Purdy missed Samuel twice for what could have been big plays. Samuel practically pulled a ball off the turf to convert the Niners’ first third-down attempt of the game during a two-minute drill prior to halftime, which helped set up a Robbie Gould field goal that made it 16-14.
The Seahawks took a 17-16 lead into the locker room. But the 49ers answered with a 13-play, 75-yard drive out of halftime, capped by Purdy’s 1-yard rushing touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers defense finished the regular season No. 1 overall in the NFL. They played like it in the second half. Defensive end Charles Omenihu stripped Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith and Nick Bosa fell on the ball for the first turnover – and turning point – of the contest.
Tight end George Kittle (two catches, 37 yards) entered with seven touchdowns in his last five games and showed why he has emerged as Purdy’s favorite red zone target by hauling in a pivotal two-point conversion with 14:02 remaining to make it a 14 point game (31-17). His presence in the run game, freeing up McCaffrey and backup Elijah Mitchell – whose receiving touchdown set up the Kittle catch – cannot be understated.
Then came the knockout punch, delivered by Samuel, who took a short pass 74 yards to the house for a 38-17 lead that placed the game in the blowout category.
Samuel looked dynamic as ever after returning from an ankle injury, and managed to fill his own stat sheet through the air (six catches on nine targets, 133 receiving yards, one touchdown) and on the ground (three rushes for 32 yards). Aiyuk had catches of 19, 23 and 31 yards for a total of 73 – two of those completions came on play-action calls.
Too often, Purdy would refuse to move forward in the pocket and instead dart backward and to the left before throwing the ball out of bounds. His grasp of the play clock seemed shaky and the 49ers were forced to burn a timeout in the first half.
Despite this occasional uneasiness, the Niners wracked up 505 yards – their most in a game in the last three seasons – on 64 plays, an average of 7.9 yards per play. They punted once and scored on their final five drives (three touchdowns, two field goals). An area for improvement, Purdy said, will be the red zone where San Francisco was 3-for-6 on Saturday.
The multiplicity and proficiency of Purdy’s offensive teammates does not minimize what the Iowa State product has done. The records he sets will speak for themselves. So will the numbers.
“We got a goal of winning the whole thing,” Purdy said.
He knows better than anyone that advancing further in the playoffs – or even collecting a Super Bowl ring – will be the result of a group effort on offense.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.