If you like gross football, Sunday was for you.
The 49ers played their worst game of the season against what may well be the best defense in the NFL. It was rainy, muddy, cold and hard to watch.
At halftime, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski told Fox Sports, “We’re dragging them down in the mud with us,” with a smile.
That’s exactly what the Browns did.
Cleveland gave the 49ers a nightmare with P.J. Walker starting in place of Deshaun Watson, and made Brock Purdy look like a shell of himself. Everything went wrong for San Francisco in a 19-17 loss that featured a last-second miss from rookie kicker Jake Moody,
Injuries, mud and mess
After a first drive which looked as clinical as anything the 49ers have done this season, it was downhill.
On that opening drive, Christian McCaffrey was dominant. He did the following:
- 2 carries, 32 yards
- 2 penalties drawn, 30 yards (1 unnecessary roughness, 1 facemask)
- 1 reception, 12 yards, TD
And for a brief moment, it almost seemed like that would continue. Fred Warner picked off P.J. Walker and looked like he might be ready to take it for a pick-six. But a Jake Moody hooked miss from 54 yards set the tone for the afternoon.
On the injury front, it was ugly.
Trent Williams hurt his ankle early on but returned.
Deebo Samuel suffered an early shoulder injury, and did not return. The lack of his presence was apparent more than a few times, especially as Ray-Ray McCloud seemed to have issues with motions.
After that, Christian McCaffrey had an oblique injury that kept him out for most of the second half. He returned for one snap, then headed to the locker room before being ruled out.
It was evident that without him, the 49ers seemed lost.
How bad was it? After their field goal to go up 10-7, the 49ers had a 30-yard drive that ended in a punt. Their next seven drives had a net of -5 yards.
Until that final drive, the 49ers simply couldn’t move the ball. They had myriad opportunities to get things going. They were unable, and punished for it.
Bad Brock in the rain
It’s clear this was Brock Purdy’s worst game. He actually was not at fault, for the most part, early. There was a deep ball for what would have been a major completion that Brandon Aiyuk failed to hold onto, but as the game progressed, he looked totally out of sorts.
Purdy missed a would-be touchdown to McCaffrey that was egregious. He had pressure in his face, but we’ve seen Purdy deliver in situations like that previously, and he simply missed.
He overthrew Aiyuk twice on the same drive in the fourth quarter, and was bailed out by a Deommodore Lenoir interception that became a Jordan Mason go-ahead touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
The intermittent rain in Cleveland was a glaring issue for Purdy, and it was highlighted by his first interception of the season. It was a bad underthrow of Aiyuk, thrown well behind him.
When he was pressured with less than three minutes to go, he tried to escape pressure, but couldn’t get the ball back to the line of scrimmage and found himself called for intentional grounding. He came back to Aiyuk for a 10-yard completion, but had nothing available on third down.
It’s a game where a less than stellar performance would have been understandable given the lack of Samuel and McCaffrey, the rain, and facing an elite defense.
But so many of his misses were on him and him alone.
On the final drive of the game, Purdy’s first throw was a near interception to Greg Newsome, on a ball thrown well behind Jauan Jennings. Then he launched a ball miles beyond Brandon Aiyuk down the sideline. His next throw was way outside of Jennings, who drew a crucial pass interference call that gave the 49ers a fresh set of downs.
That was enormous.
On the very next play, Purdy threw a quick out to Aiyuk, who rumbled downfield against a Browns defense that looked completely taken by surprise. It was a 25-yard gain that put the 49ers on the brink of field goal range.
Purdy could’ve had a possible first down to Jennings on the next set of downs, but overthrew him.
He found Aiyuk for an eight-yard gain to set up a 3rd-and-2 just inside field goal range, and came back to Jennings — on the down that he owns — for an out route that got San Francisco to the Browns’ 26-yard line.
A 3-yard run from Jordan Mason set up what should have been a game-winning 41-yard field goal from Jake Moody. Moody, possibly over-correcting from his 54-yard hook, pushed his kick wide right.
It was probably a deserved, embarrassing loss for the 49ers and Purdy. He finished 12-of-27 with 125 yards, a shovel pass TD and a bad first interception of the season.
Mistakes, penalties, and otherwise
There were an abundance of errors by the 49ers on Sunday.
There were Purdy’s misses, but so many drives in the second half stalled due to penalties. It should be stated that the crew on Sunday was woeful for both sides. At one point, early in the game, they called a face mask on the Browns that was clearly on Ambry Thomas and eventually corrected it after it was shown on the screen in the stadium.
They looked as lost as the 49ers’ offense out there.
Both teams were heavily penalized. The 49ers were called for 12 penalties for 105 yards. The Browns were called for 11 penalties for 97 yards, one of which set up Lenoir’s interception.
San Francisco seemingly started every drive in a 1st- or 2nd-and-long.
But despite both defenses dominating, and the 49ers shooting themselves in the foot, they found themselves up 17-13 with 2:56 left in the game.
And they were set up to win it, too.
The 49ers had a situation that should have been a 4th-and-10 inside of three minutes. Instead, Tashaun Gipson Sr. was called, erroneously, for a high hit.
Charvarius Ward was called for a defensive hold later in the drive that the broadcast deemed “questionable.”
The Browns then rumbled down into the red zone with two minutes remaining in the game. They were set up to take the lead and/or run the clock down, but Walker panicked on a 2nd and 8, nearly throwing an interception to Oren Burks in the end zone.
A 29-yard Dustin Hopkins field goal gave Cleveland a 19-17 lead with 1:40 remaining and the 49ers with one timeout.
Purdy and the 49ers offense seemed like they’d done enough. Not quite. They will malign an abundance of things that went wrong. Even with that bogus call on Gipson, they have themselves to blame for the loss.