The San Francisco 49ers were arguably more undermanned in Week 7 than they were in Week 6. Christian McCaffrey was able to play, but Deebo Samuel was unavailable after suffering a shoulder injury during the 49ers’ 19-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Trent Williams fought through an ankle injury to stay on the field that day, but he was inactive against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. Brock Purdy has his work cut out for him, on the road for a second consecutive week.
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Not only did the 49ers lose to the Vikings, they did not hold the lead at any point during the game. Those wide-open crossing routes did not present themselves, and the pocket was not consistently clean. San Fran did not score until there was one minute remaining in the second quarter and would go on to lose the game, 22-17. Purdy threw interceptions on the 49ers’ final two drives of the game.
During the first half, Purdy played well, although unspectacularly. He was 11-for-13 for 122 yards. The 49ers had a chance to take an early lead on their first possession, and their falling short was not Purdy’s fault. Kirk Cousins began the game in “Primetime Kirk” mode and threw an interception on the opening drive of the game. The 49ers advanced the ball deep into Vikings’ territory, but McCaffrey lost a fumble. On the 49ers’ next drive Jake Moody — who missed a potential game-winning field goal against the Browns — failed to convert on a 40-yard attempt.
There is plenty of blame to pass around for the 49ers falling even further from their perch as the clear-cut, best team in the league. Several players should have been better — one defensive example being Charvarius Ward — but when the 49ers had a chance to win late, Purdy looked just as uneasy as he did at times against the Browns.
With no Williams, the Vikings were able to apply pressure and make Purdy far less comfortable in the pocket than he has been most of his NFL career, for the second week in a row. The touchdown that San Francisco scored in the second half was a screen pass that McCaffrey took 35 yards to the house.
Purdy’s two fourth-quarter interceptions came on passes that usually fall into the hands of a player wearing a gold helmet who has plenty of YAC in front of him. The middle of the field has been a place where the 49ers can get huge yardage gains. Instead, they’ve had problems there for two games in a row, and bad plays in Week 7 halted potential game-winning drives.
Even though San Francisco is 5-2 on the season and has been largely dominant, Purdy has shown vulnerability throughout this season. Just because he has not thrown a great deal of interceptions does not mean that his ball placement and decision-making have been infallible. PFF’s Steve Palazzolo co-signed NFL analyst Arif Hasan who pointed out that Purdy is fourth in turnover-worthy play rate this season.
The 49ers have a roster and coaching staff that is capable of making life much easier for Purdy than it would have been if he was forced onto the field to quarterback a much less stable organization. He has largely made the correct decisions, and has shown athleticism to create plays for his skill-position threats.
However, these last two games made public what had already been noticed. Purdy has made some poor decisions this season. While the 49ers are dealing with key offensive injuries, he will continue to receive less forgiveness for his errors in judgment.
Willams and Samuel’s injuries have not been deemed season-ending. McCaffrey played one week after not finishing a game. So far, the 2023 49ers still appear to be on the right track towards the top of the NFC.
The conference is not particularly strong, and of the 10 remaining games on the 49ers’ schedule, only four are against the top tier of the NFL — the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, and Baltimore Ravens. Unless they suffer a rash of season-ending injuries, the NFC West title should belong to the 49ers.
Last season though, Purdy didn’t get the opportunity to put his talents on full display during the playoffs. The New York Giants were overmatched, and his elbow went dead during the first quarter against the Eagles.
Purdy is going to be tested the rest of this season, and even more so in January. If he struggles, he may be a young late-round pick who can only be faulted so much, but that won’t salve the wounds of a Super Bowl contender coming up short. As for the people who bet on him to lead arguably the best roster in the league to a championship, they deserve some questions if the 49ers don’t hoist a Lombard Trophy because of some poor QB decision-making.