A return to the playoffs that Brock Purdy really needed

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SANTA CLARA, California — Want to know who held Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers responsible on Saturday, when time is running out, rain is falling, Deebo Samuel is injured and the Green Bay Packers are just a play or two away from a monumental victory? malaise in the playoffs?

Do you want to know who assigned the responsibility and demanded that the 49ers fight throughout the game? Who laid out all the possible consequences? It would be Purdy and everyone else on the 49ers, who stepped into this spot with one of their most baffling performances this season.

They got the ball back with 6:13 left in the game after the Packers missed a field goal. The 49ers trailed by four points. They needed a touchdown. And they knew this was probably their last realistic chance to figure out how to avoid a horrendous loss in this divisional round playoff game. Then, once the offense came to the huddle, Trent Williams gave a mini speech.

“I just told them, hey, man, there's six minutes left, this might be the last time we have the ball. And if we don't do something about it, this could be the last time we are together in this group,” Williams recalled. “So, whatever you have, bring it. Bring it to the next play and then bring it to the next play and then let the rest take care of itself.”

Everyone felt it. The 49ers were in Levi's Stadium, as the NFC favorite to make the Super Bowl, and they absolutely felt it. What happened next: Purdy snapped out of his slump and started completing passes, Brandon Aiyuk made a big catch on third down, Purdy scrambled inside the Packers' 10-yard line, and finally Christian McCaffrey dove for a 6-yard touchdown that put The 49ers finally ahead. Then, Dre Greenlaw capped off the 49ers' 24-21 victory by intercepting Jordan Love's reckless crossing move in the final minute.

But yeah, the 49ers felt it. And no one felt it more than Purdy. Almost an hour after the game, you could tell they were still feeling it: all the adrenaline, all the disappointment of playing so randomly in such an important game, all the importance and all the relief. The 49ers saw their playoff lives flash before their eyes on Saturday… and thanks to those last few plays, they're still alive with a spot in the NFC Championship Game at Levi's on Jan. 28, facing the winner of the game Sunday's Lions-Buccaneers. .

Dre Greenlaw runs with the ball after intercepting a Green Bay pass in the fourth quarter to secure the 49ers' victory. (Godofredo A. Vásquez/Associated Press)

They live. And they know a little more about themselves now than they did after all their easy wins this season. (But so do their opponents.)

“At one point, you're down and you have to find a way,” Purdy said. “It's the fourth quarter, it's the NFL. Obviously, we're in the postseason now. We were all like, okay, this is it. This is our season. For us to take advantage of that was huge. For all of us.

“Obviously, for me as a quarterback, it's good for confidence and all that. But we have too many good players on this team, many players who make a difference. We have a great defense. That we don't find a way, it's not right. So for us to finally have a game like this and come out ahead was huge for all of us.”

Nick Bosa flatly said the 49ers needed a game like this, noting that they lost all of their close games this regular season and won every blowout. And Purdy more than anyone needed something like this. Of course, the 49ers never want to see Purdy flounder for more than three quarters like he did Saturday. The 49ers never want to be outscored like the Packers outscored them for most of this game.

But the 49ers also needed to see Purdy rise from a struggle and deliver. They needed him to not only be a big favorite. They needed him to get out of a hole and win this damn game, and he went 6-for-7 on that last drive, looking pretty calm (“it was Brock, he couldn't say anything,” Williams said of that moment). and a lot like the guy who led the NFL in passer rating and broke the 49ers' single-season passing yards record this season.

So what was happening to Purdy in this game before that? The rain no doubt caused him some problems, just as the wet weather in Cleveland earlier this season seemed to bother him. At times Saturday, Purdy wiped his right hand even as he dropped back to pass.

“Obviously, I put on a glove for the first ride,” Purdy said. “It was dripping, so I took it off. He was trying to figure out what he wanted to do. He was a little fed up with the glove. … Yeah, there were times I backed off when the ball was a little wet from the grass. It kind of affected certain accuracy and stuff. But that's football. I have to be better than that.”

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However, it's no problem if it's dry next Sunday at Levi's, and certainly not at all if the 49ers make the Super Bowl at the indoor Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas in February.

Purdy also said the Packers defense did a good job of cutting off his deep options and forcing him to go to his checks. And then Purdy spent most of the game rushing those checks, often for poor finishes. Additionally, although the Packers recorded only one sack in the game, the pass rush seemed to bother Purdy, altering his throwing lanes and making him move his feet as he threw, leading to a pair of wild passes that the Packers could easily Have done. intercepted but fallen.

This could be a problematic issue for the 49ers in the coming weeks, as Purdy also looked quite uncomfortable against the Ravens on Christmas, and the Ravens could very well be the AFC's representative in the Super Bowl. But Purdy sounded like he had worked something out in his head during that last trip; If they're begging you to take the easy pass, and the easy pass can move you down the field, just do it. Don't let previous mistakes ruin you when it matters most.

“We had what we wanted right in front of us, so we have to start with a clean slate,” Purdy said. “You have to have a clean mind and not try to force anything. Take what the defense gives you. And find a way, man.”

On that last drive, Purdy completed whatever short passes were there and then ran a crucial 17-yard route to Chris Conley. Their only failure in the series came when George Kittle, who was otherwise the 49ers' best offensive player, contributing a 32-yard second-quarter touchdown and 81 total receiving yards, dropped another short, which Purdy He continued with the dart. to Aiyuk on third down.

“The whole day was a little off,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “But the boys stood their ground. Even that second-and-6 right at the end, getting that drop gets us to third-and-6, then BA made an unbelievable play to keep us on the field.”

Another potential cause for the 49ers' bumpy offensive play: the two-week layoff, counting Week 18, when Purdy and many other top players sat out the meaningless loss to the Rams and the weekend bye. past.

“I don't know, that could have been it,” Shanahan said. “It could have been the rain, it could have been good defense. But those are things you have to talk about. We handled it the best we could.”

Purdy, who was 23 of 39 that day for 252 yards and 1 touchdown, for a passer rating of 86.7, wasn't the only 49er struggling in this game, of course. The defense suffered a handful of slips and miscues against Love and his receivers and gave up a big 53-yard run to Aaron Jones. The 49ers' special teams were also hit: The coverage unit allowed a 73-yard kickoff return to Keisean Nixon and Jake Moody had a 48-yard field goal attempt deflected at the line.

But the defense took advantage of Greenlaw's interception to seal the game, plus another one before that, and stopped Green Bay in the red zone several times. And Moody made up for his earlier mistake with a decisive 52-yard score early in the fourth quarter that brought the 49ers within 21-17.

“It was by no means perfect,” Shanahan said. “I was very frustrated. But I am also very proud and excited to play one more week.”

Frankly, the 49ers played the type of playoff game in which a team normally gets eliminated. There would have been harsh criticism throughout the NFL if the 49ers and Purdy had lost this game. And the 49ers and Purdy knew all that, as time progressed and they met in that meeting. There was a season to save. And now there may be a couple more games left to play.

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Dre Greenlaw would not go down, and neither would the 49ers thanks to him

(Top photo by Brock Purdy: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)



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