49ers avoid ‘panic lights’ with win over Jaguars, readying them for gauntlet to come

Niners' rout begins with Brock Purdy making 'one of his worst decisions'

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy rolled out to his left and then released his pass right, directing it toward a trafficky middle of the end zone.

The ball sailed above tight end George Kittle’s head, inches from not one but two Jacksonville Jaguars defenders.

Niners receiver Brandon Aiyuk jumped and caught the ball for a touchdown as San Francisco took an early lead less than four minutes into the game.

The Jaguars would never even match that point total, the Niners steadily pulling away en route to a 34-3 win.

But the jubilation from the ultimately game-sealing early touchdown was muted.

I can say this because he played his ass off … but that was one of his worst decisions [Purdy]’s made since he’s been here,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game. “It took me a while to get over it. I thanked him for the touchdown. But that was not a good decision.”

Purdy himself admitted he was “not necessarily proud of that play,” while Kittle described the cross-body risk as “one of the biggest no-nos — except when it works.”

The paradox underscores the lens through which the 49ers see their quarterback’s past month of play.

Production? Purdy was averaging 254 passing yards per game during the three-game losing streak that the team snapped Sunday, not too far off from the 296 he tossed against the Jaguars. His teammates appreciate his confidence to “sit in the pocket and give you the opportunity,” Kittle said, while Shanahan appreciates his quarterback “letting it rip.”

Sunday was, finally, another day to smile for Brock Purdy and the 49ers. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
Sunday was, finally, another day to smile for Brock Purdy and the 49ers. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

But the same fear that washed over Shanahan during the Niners’ first possession Sunday was the fear that hurt the 49ers during their losing streak: turnovers.

Purdy is just one of several reasons why this contest turned out differently.

Brock Purdy’s big day was a key ingredient to 49ers’ rebound, but not the only one

During the 49ers’ three-game losing streak, Purdy threw three touchdowns and five interceptions, also losing a fumble. He completed 62.5% of passes and averaged a 77.0 passer rating.

Against the Jaguars? Purdy completed 73% of his pass attempts for three touchdowns and no turnovers. His efficiency rating, at 148.9, reflected that.

Brock Purdy headshot
Brock Purdy
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Perhaps his strongest play of the game came on the second play of the third quarter, the 49ers up 13-3. During halftime, Shanahan had outlined eight to 10 plays he had wanted to run in the second half, Kittle said. But when Deebo Samuel caught a 9-yard pass on the first play of the half, the 49ers faced second-and-1. Shanahan had told his team the Jaguars gravitated toward man coverage on that specific down-and-distance.

So Purdy held strong in a thoroughly collapsing pocket and trusted Shahanan’s scouting report. Purdy believed that his four-time Pro Bowl tight end held a mismatch in single coverage down the right sideline against linebacker Devin Lloyd. The quarterback released a dime 30 air yards, Kittle carrying it the final 36 yards to the end zone.

This time, the 49ers’ rules were obeyed and celebrated.

“I came into this game with a clear mindset of, ‘I’ve got dudes around me, I’ve got a great defense. Be smart and make plays,’” Purdy said. “Play free in terms of cutting loose, but also play within the scheme and be smart with the ball.

“I’ve got to keep playing like that moving forward.”

It’s easy to suggest Purdy’s performance made the difference in the results. But at least as much, the “dudes” around Purdy elevated their game Sunday.

San Francisco fronted 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams for the first time since Oct. 15, Purdy still under pressure vs. a talented Jags line but one link stronger. Samuel also returned for the first time since his Oct. 15 injury and created schematic mismatches that his 59 yards from scrimmage don’t fully reflect.

The 49ers’ four touchdowns came by way of receiver, tight end, running back and fullback. Weapons like Samuel in the lineup, Kittle said, create that.

“When you can move him and Christian [McCaffrey], you interchange them … there’s a lot going on for the defensive process every single play,” said Kittle, who finished with 116 yards and a touchdown on just three catches. “It gets the defense on their heels a little bit and then you can attack them with Deebo, you can throw a route to Christian.

“That’s huge for our offense to have that diversity.”

Defensively, too, the 49ers held a Jaguars team averaging 24.1 points a game to just three points. The Jacksonville group that had compiled 341.4 yards of offense per game managed just 221. Linebacker Fred Warner credited his secondary’s coverage disguises with confusing Lawrence, allowing the defensive line the 49ers have invested heavily in to unload. After registering five sacks in the past three games, the Niners downed Lawrence five times in one day.

The recently reunited Buckeye duo of Nick Bosa and Chase Young even combined for a strip sack, San Francisco forcing two fumbles and collecting another two interceptions. The plus-4 turnover margin positioned the 49ers far better than the minus-1 margin they averaged during the skid.

Shanahan said he thought the pass rush unit played its best game.

“Any time we’ve had success, our defense is always the side of the ball to really start something up, I feel like,” Purdy said. “Very blessed to have our defense.”

Eagles, Seahawks gauntlet awaits 49ers after turnaround

The Bay Area can sleep soundly Sunday night.

If the 49ers’ win over the Jaguars is any indication — and fans and pundits lately seem inclined to operate on the presumption that every game is a be-all, end-all reflection of hopes and dreams — all of San Francisco's goals this season are still in reach.

Purdy’s rookie success doesn’t look like a mirage, the Niners’ defense looks the opposite of broken and San Francisco’s playoff viability is alive and well.

The Niners always were capable of this, even with injuries and a short-term funk wrecking their October. So their win over the Jaguars isn’t surprising. But it’s also not insignificant.

Players weren’t afraid to admit its import.

“Losing four straight, a lot of people would have wanted to turn the panic lights on,” Williams said. “Could have had the proverbial backs against the wall. Coming out, gettin this win on the road against a good team that’s been rolling … is definitely what we needed.

“I think it was huge.”

Also huge, players said, is learning from the poor stretch.

“We had three games that just wasn’t us,” Warner said. “We had to get back to playing 49er football, especially on the defensive side. I’ve spoken on it. We had to take pride in what we were putting on tape and felt like today, [we] did that.”

Over the next month, the 49ers will have ample opportunity to show whether they can continue to replicate this play style. After hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week, the 49ers will hit a three-game stretch that features a home-and-away series against the Seattle Seahawks with a visit to the Philadelphia Eagles in between. The Eagles trumped San Francisco in the last NFC championship game, after Purdy tore his UCL and the 49ers’ quarterback situation became dire enough to prompt a league rule change in the spring. The Seahawks currently own an identical 6-3 record to the Niners, San Francisco’s division lead hanging tenuously from a tiebreaker.

Outside noise won’t fuel the 49ers’ coming weeks, they say. But the growing tenor inside the building will continue to remind this group what they believe they can do.

“We have extremely high standards, bigger than any outside people can put on us,” defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. “We want to be great, we want to be dominant and we want to play at a high level.

“We know our team is going to need us to do that if we want to get to where we want to go.”