Nothing about that went according to script. It was deranged, sloppy, and exhausting to watch as it was enthralling.
It felt like more like a game of Madden with a younger cousin over the holidays; you go easy on them, then promptly realize they’re a lot better than you thought. It gets messy, the defense is nonexistent, but you figure out a way to win.
The 49ers, seeing Jarrett Stidham at the helm, expected to roll over the Raiders. Nick Bosa admitted as much after the game, saying they underestimated Stidham, a mistake they won’t make again. It was sloppy. The defense was poor. They figured out a way to win.
They needed a wake-up call.
For weeks, Fred Warner had been mentioning how there were things to clean up defensively. Given how dominant — for the most part — the performances had been, it was something to take with a grain of salt. It came off a bit like coach-speak from a leader demanding excellence.
But when you look a little closer, the weaknesses were there, especially in coverage. Deommodore Lenoir has been inconsistent on the outside, and Talanoa Hufanga, often his designated help over the top, tends to be far too eager to play-make in the run game, abandoning his coverage responsibilities.
The deficiencies in the league’s best run defense were surprising — as they gave up 135 rushing yards, second only to Atlanta’s 168 in Week 6 — but given the loss of Hassan Ridgeway and Kevin Givens, it becomes a bit more understandable.
At the core was a reminder that anyone in the NFL can beat you at any time. The defense seemed to look at Jarrett Stidham, like we all did, and go, “This guy? Really?”
Yes, apparently. That guy (and Jacobs, Davante Adams, Darren Waller and… Foster Moreau?).
The defense was exposed in a way we had not seen since that horrid two-week stretch against the Falcons and Chiefs in Weeks 6 and 7.
But they rebounded after those games. The offense found its groove.
This thing had been an eight-week, well-oiled juggernaut that was dominating teams. The 22-16 win over the Los Angeles Chargers was the closest thing to a test they’d faced, and they didn’t allow a single second-half point to that team.
It had all been a little too easy.
This was a reminder that your league-best defense can come apart at the seams if they’re not locked in. And perhaps more importantly, it offered Brock Purdy a reminder of his Iowa State days. He said he needed it
“To have that kind of game, it was great to feel like that in the fourth quarter,” Purdy said. “Game’s on the line; alright, now we’ve got to go put up points. It was great for me to go through that and feel it again. Last time I felt like that was in college.”
He was responsible for shouldering so much of the offensive load in college.
That seems to be part of what’s eased his transition to the NFL. With an abundance of weapons and perhaps the league’s best play caller, he hasn’t had an opportunity for a comeback win or to be in a perilous position.
Part of that position was his own doing, though that is not at all to say he played poorly.
He misplaced a ball to George Kittle that was picked off by Raiders corner Amik Robertson, who sunk back cleverly in coverage. Purdy admitted he didn’t see Robertson and needed to lead Kittle.
He took a checkdown to Christian McCaffrey instead of a guaranteed 20-plus gainer to a wide open Kittle. He underthrew a deep ball to Jauan Jennings with touchdown potential. He missed a would-be touchdown to Tyler Kroft. He nearly threw an interception at the start of the cursed, would-be game-winning drive at the end of regulation.
But aside from that one miss, he was damn effective in those two drives inside the final four minutes of the fourth quarter. Kyle Shanahan said he loved what he saw.
“I think that was great for him,” Shanahan said. “We had to come from behind, especially there at the end. He made a ton of plays today, but there were a number that he missed, too. That’s the coolest part. There were some he’d love to have back.
“It was never one way too much or the other where he was struggling or doing well, but there were some mixed plays and to keep coming back and keep attacking, he never got gun shy. He made some real good decisions too. He fought it out throughout the whole game and found a way to win.”
What Purdy did in those final minutes was impressive without further context.
But McCaffrey (19 carries and six catches for 192 yards, 1 TD) and Aiyuk (one carry and nine catches for 117 yards, 1 TD) saw what he was like up close.
Their reactions belied an even-keeled disposition worthy of some of the league’s savviest veterans. McCaffrey said Purdy “took the throne,” in the way he adjusted play calls and made adjustments on the fly.
Aiyuk highlighted those checks in concert with his vibe of “I’ve been here before.”
“He handled it great. He did a great job. Super calm dude. Super calm dude. The moment is never too big for him,” Aiyuk said. “He’s out there leading two-minute drills, signaling out wide, changing play calls while we’re going in two-minute. Today really showed us that I think this dude is on a different level. He can play, for sure.”
At some point over the next few weeks, the 49ers will find themselves in a similar situation.
Sunday was a reminder that they know how to get through it, regardless of how it looks. That muscle memory and scar tissue will be invaluable come playoff time.
“You never know when you’re going to be in one of those games again,” McCaffrey said. “You need to be battled tested. You need to have your back against the wall so you know how to respond so you can figure out and find ways and have experience under pressure. I think that’s the biggest thing going into the playoffs.”
The 49ers saw their rookie quarterback execute when it mattered most, even after a game in which he probably wasn’t at his best. Their defense, gashed repeatedly throughout the game, came up clutch, too.
Great teams don’t always win easy. They just win. And the 49ers have now won nine-straight. They’re in sole possession of the No. 2 seed; if the Philadelphia Eagles lose next week and the 49ers beat the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco will secure the top seed and a first-round bye.
For a team on its third quarterback, which started 3-4, nothing should surprise us at this point.