QB Brock Purdy, 49ers, find rhythm in the second half as the Seahawks falter

QB Brock Purdy, 49ers, find rhythm in the second half as the Seahawks falter

  • Sports
  • January 15, 2023
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7:33 p.m. ET

Brady Henderson

Nick Wagoner

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Nick Wagoner

ESPN Staff Writer Covered Rams for nine years for stlouisrams.com Previously Covered University of Missouri Football Member of Pro Football Writers of America

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — After a tight first half, the San Francisco 49ers racked up 25 unanswered points to open the second half and won 41-23 over the Seattle Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday. The win was the 11th straight for the 49ers, who will face a yet-to-be-determined opponent in next weekend’s Divisional round.

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San Francisco 49ers

As the lowest draft rookie quarterback starting a playoff game, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy showed understandable nerve for the first time in his young career.

Purdy started Saturday’s wildcard matchup against the Seattle Seahawks with a couple of misses and late reads on plays that he’s made look routine over the past month. But once again, Purdy didn’t flinch when faced with adversity.

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After Purdy settled in and his playmakers gained plenty of yards from the catch, the Niners rolled into next week’s NFC divisional round. They will host either the Minnesota Vikings, the Dallas Cowboys or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi’s Stadium.

Whatever influenced Purdy early on disappeared with a quick stop in the dressing room at halftime. In the last two quarters he was near perfect, going 9 of 11 for 185 yards with two passing touchdowns and a rushing score.

Purdy finished 18 of 30 for 332 yards with four total touchdowns. In doing so, he became the third rookie quarterback to score three points in a playoff game and threw multiple touchdowns in a game for the seventh consecutive year, tying him with Justin Herbert for the longest streak by a rookie quarterback since 1950.

The biggest question these Niners faced as the postseason started was how Purdy would react when the lights were on at their brightest. Just as it has passed every test so far, Purdy has passed with flying colours.

Key game: The Seahawks were down 2:31 in the third quarter and had the ball at the San Francisco 19-yard line and threatened to retake the lead.

But when Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith dropped back to throw, he got immediate pressure from Niners defenseman Charles Omenihu on the right. When Smith surfaced, Omenihu brushed the ball away.

A watchful Nick Bosa pounced on the fumble to score the first takeout of the game, and the Niners promptly drove to a touchdown that essentially ended the game.

Not only did the diner score points in San Francisco’s favor, the 49ers didn’t have any freebies either. The Niners are now 14-0 this season in games where they have a turnover or no turnover.

Stunning NextGen Stat: For the first time this season, Niners running back Christian McCaffrey didn’t get a touch on the first drive of a game. But he made his first attempt with second possession, dashing 68 yards from the left for the third-longest rush of his career.

On the run, McCaffrey hit a top speed of 20.8 mph, his fastest speed as a ball carrier since Week 8 of 2019.

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0:18

49ers get tremendous fumble recovery in the red zone

Charles Omenihu snatches the ball from Geno Smith and Nick Bosa retrieves it for a big turnover in the third quarter.

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Seattle Seahawks

So much for the Seahawks making Purdy buckle under the pressure of his first playoff start. So much for bad weather, which may have offset Seattle by slowing the 49ers and their run-after-the-catch playmakers. And so much for that silly notion that it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season.

The 49ers made it look easy in the second half as they turned a one-point halftime deficit into an overwhelming victory that showed – once again – the huge gap that exists between them and the Seahawks. San Francisco has surpassed Seattle 89-43 in three games this season.

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As ugly as it got for the Seahawks in the last two quarters, perspective is important. They shouldn’t be there Saturday at Levi’s Stadium, staying tough with the No. 2 in the NFC and even leading a 17-16 lead at halftime against a team that had won 10 straight games. They shouldn’t be in the playoffs at all after trading Russell Wilson, eliminating Bobby Wagner and committing to playing a string of youngsters on both sides of the ball.

The arrow is pointing up for the Seahawks, even though Smith is out of contract after this season and a defense up front requires a lot of work. They have a promising young core and a boatload of draft funds for 2023, including fifth overall pick via the Wilson trade. But the 49ers just sent them into the offseason with another reminder that the Seahawks need to make a big step forward before they can catch up with the new bully in the NFC West block again.

Worrying Trend: Most of the Seahawks’ defensive problems this year stemmed from their overwhelmed front seven, but their tackling was poor on all three levels. That was a big reason they ranked 31st in yards allowed by catch per reception during the regular season. That made for a tough matchup against a 49ers offense that has led the NFL in YAC for the past six seasons, and things have gone as badly for Seattle as one would expect. Deebo Samuel’s 74-yard touchdown catch was the most glaring example of Seattle’s poor tackling. The 49ers finished the game with 181 yards from the catch, their third most in a game this season.

QB breakdown: Smith delivered the kind of ups and downs that characterized his game in the closing stages of the regular season. He threw a beautiful deep ball to DK Metcalf in the second quarter for a 50-yard touchdown that gave Seattle the lead. He completed 71.4% of his passes, right near his franchise-record season average. But he committed another costly turnover by a lost fumble that ruined a third-quarter hit. He threw an interception in the fourth quarter, but Seattle was in desperation mode by then. Smith finished 25 of 35 for 253 yards and two touchdown passes, both to Metcalf.

Crucial Game: Late in the third quarter, the Seahawks were looking for a possible touchdown, or at least a field goal, to reduce the 49ers’ lead to three points. But their 12-play drive ended when Smith was stripped trying to move up in the third-place pocket. The 49ers then took a 14-point lead on their next possession. Seattle’s pass protection had held up well against an excellent San Francisco front four until Smith’s strip sack. According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was only the 49ers’ fifth push of the game to 22 Seattle dropbacks (23%). They pressured the Seahawks on 38% of their regular-season dropbacks.

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