SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Kyle Shanahan is most straightforward and in-depth about his play calls and game plans. The heart, soul and conscience of the 49er’s offense is released right there, every weekend, through his headset and onto the field. There’s no hiding from it, and Shanahan doesn’t want to hide from it.
And what happened in the 49ers’ playoff opener Saturday against a Seattle defense clearly intent on stopping the run? A lot happened. It’s all been important if you want to understand what’s going on with this team as it prepares for next weekend’s divisional round and beyond.
Shanahan called for rookie Brock Purdy to throw a pass on the first play (wet ball incomplete), on the second play (19-yard completion) and on the fourth play (incomplete), called Purdy a long lateral on the play. on the fifth play (7 yards) and threw a pass on the sixth play (incompletion) en route to a 49ers field goal for the game’s first points. Shanahan then continued to draw passing plays, 19 in the first half alone, compared to just nine runs.
It wasn’t immediately dominant, but this 41-23 victory at Levi’s Stadium set the tone. The evidence was inescapable. This is the way for the 49ers right now, this postseason and maybe much longer than that. They will face either the Vikings (if they win on Sunday) or the winner of Monday night’s Tampa Bay-Dallas game (if the Vikings lose). And whoever it is, the team that plays the 49ers will know they have to figure out how to beat Brock Purdy.
It’s not like Shanahan was ever going to give up the run, and in fact, things evened out pretty quickly in the second half (the 49ers finished with 33 rushing and 30 passing). But now the 49ers can go full tilt air attack if they want to. And they kind of want to.
In Purdy’s first playoff game, and just his sixth NFL start (and the rookie’s first playoff victory since Russell Wilson in 2012), Shanahan had the game in his hands and was only too happy to stay in it for a long time. Because it worked, especially against a Seahawks defense that packed the line of scrimmage.
“I think they were trying to take away the run, but we came out firing,” linebacker Kyle Juszczyk said. “And there’s definitely some meat left on the bone, but he still plays explosively all day. I understand what their plan is, we have a rookie quarterback and we have a running game. I’m sure they’re trying to get him to throw the ball. I’m sure that’s everyone’s plan.
“But I think he’s proven it’s good. We can make some big plays in the transition game.”
The Purdy Family 🙌 @brockpurdy13 pic.twitter.com/sjVGrVGG4p
— NFL (@NFL) January 15, 2023
That’s the way it is for the 49ers right now, as Shanahan has a lot of faith in Purdy, who missed a few throws early (in a light rain) but continued to hit all game, including seven passes longer than 15 yards. On the day, Purdy was 18-for-30 for 332 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions on 131.5 passers. he also ran four times for 16 yards and a TD.
“It will be easy for Shanahan to say. “Okay, let’s keep trying to run the ball, let’s get 3 or 4 yards and just control this thing,” Juszczyk said. “I think he has confidence in Brock that he can play himself.”
Of course, Shanahan famously allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to throw it just eight times in the 49ers’ NFC Championship Game win over the Packers in January 2020. Before that, Garoppolo threw it just 19 times in a division-round win over the Vikings.
This is not a knock on Garoppolo. The 49ers won those games, that’s what matters. But the thing is, this is something completely new here. Purdy has proven he can handle more responsibility than Shanahan has trusted any 49ers QB in six seasons, and it’s only building.
“It felt like that from the beginning when he went into that game against Miami, when we didn’t have the luxury of sitting there and worrying about how the game was going,” Shanahan said. “We just had to call plays to try to win the game and he did such a hell of a job. And he’s done it every time since. He’s built a lot of confidence and is giving us more and more confidence every week.”
And Purdy continues to do a little more each week. He’s been impressively elusive in the six games he’s played since coming in after Garoppolo’s injury in that Miami game. But on Saturday, the performance expanded exponentially. Purdy turned and got away from the pressure multiple times, leading to huge plays, several TDs and, most importantly, zero freak losses or turnovers.
“Some of those touches, I think that’s something I’ve done my whole life in terms of finding a way when it’s not there,” Purdy said.
Purdy’s best improvisation actually came in the fourth quarter, when he ran almost down the left sideline, then ran the width of the field, faked a Seahawks defensive lineman and then lasered Brandon Ayuk in the end zone. . Ayuk couldn’t collect the ball, but it was quite an exclamation point.
Yes, his teammates noticed.
“It’s great to see what he does out there, his little slip coming out of things,” wide receiver Deebo Samuel said. “It makes us a little tired. we also have to run, try to open up. But it works.”
Last week, against the Cardinals, Shanahan watched Purdy scamper 17 yards that put the 49ers out of field goal range and said he almost immediately yelled at him about it.
Kyle, you just saw it really work in this game, are extended Purdy scrambles okay now?
“No,” Shanahan said, shaking his head.
“He was great in some,” Shanahan said. “That last one was so close, the throw he made to BA in the corner was unbelievable. I know he just missed it. But he has a feeling for it. He definitely makes me nervous about some of it. But he did a hell of a job escaping. He knows his body… tries to never give up on the game. And so far he’s been very smart on the ball.”
All of this was enough to catch the attention of a rather prominent NFL fan.
Purdy WON THE GAME!!!!!!!!!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 14, 2023
“Did LeBron say that?” Purdy said when told about the tweets, looking genuinely upset. “Ah, that’s great.”
Trent Williams said offensive tackle. “I love the fact that Brock is getting the attention he deserves. He’s a good player, man. And I think anyone who watches football can see that. I’m not saying he’s the next Aaron Rodgers or Pat Mahomes, but he does everything we need him to do and more. I think we can continue to win with him, obviously.”
Not everything was perfect. But the veteran 49ers liked everything they saw from Purdy when things were damp and a little frustrating at first and then when they scored 25 straight points to start the second half.
Typically, Purdy mostly blamed himself for the 49ers trailing 17-16 at halftime, despite outscoring the Seahawks 249-176 before that. That happened because the 49ers had to settle for two short field goals to drive the red zone, and a couple of defensive breakdowns suddenly gave Seattle a lot of life.
“Coming into halftime, Kyle was standing straight, he said. we just have to keep it simple and get it to the guys,” Purdy said.
Answer: The 49ers went on a 13-play TD drive shortly after the kickoff, capped by Purdy himself on a 1-yard run. Charles Omenihu then stripped Seattle QB Geno Smith of the ensuing possession and Nick Bosa recovered. And the journey suddenly began.
In the midst of that jubilation, Purdy maneuvered around and found Elijah Mitchell wide open in the right flat for a 7-yard touchdown. Purdy’s first read was Ayuk to his left, but Ayuk was covered. Purdy then applied some pressure, rolled to his left, felt more pressure, so he pulled back to the middle and flipped it to Mitchell in the right flat. Easy TD.
Then came this.
341 total yards. 4 total TDs.
Playoff Purdy is in full effect.#SuperWildCard #NFLPlayoffspic.twitter.com/IQVcd9TAJS
— NFL (@NFL) January 15, 2023
At the time, Purdy appeared to start throwing it to Mitchell before he leaned all the way back to him. Which Purdy basically confirmed. Instinct, both ways. That’s why he said he’s celebrating so wildly.
“Just a broken game,” Purdy said. “I was trying to go left to BA and take my progression from there. It just broke. Elijah did his job in terms of staying in the defense, and if he had time, he could come out. He was my last reading. The front just fell apart. When I messed up, Elijah was where he needed to be.
“And that’s why I was excited. I had that confidence in him being here and the same for him in myself. Just a huge part of the game to build momentum, just a big game for everybody and a big moment for everybody.”
The moments are getting bigger for the 49ers. Their rookie QB is certainly not slowing down. If anything, he’s getting better. It’s right there on the field. It happens.
Thompson: The Seahawks struck first, but Deebo Samuel hit the highest
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)