The fall environs of the midwest have been exceedingly unkind to the San Francisco 49ers. A team that looked unbeatable has proven itself to be anything but.
For the second-straight week, the 49ers lost on the road with an underwhelming defensive performance in which Brock Purdy threw a pick and Jake Moody missed a kick. The 22-17 prompts serious questions of this team, and moves them out of the top seed in the NFC at 5-2.
Purdy rebounds, until he doesn’t
Brock Purdy was playing a fairly impressive game on Monday night, with the exception of one air-mailed throw to Jauan Jennings and a scramble turned bad sack.
He was 19-of-24 with 252 yards and a touchdown and looked in control of the offense. He had one outrageous scramble and was putting the ball where it needed to go.
He had the chance to be a hero. In crunch time, with less than six minutes to go, and the 49ers at the Vikings’ 49-yard line, he threw a confounding, and fate-sealing interception.
Jauan Jennings was bumped off the line of scrimmage and a bit outside of his expected route pattern, but that isn’t close to an excuse for the ball Purdy threw. It was the definition of a duck, and went happily into the arms of Vikings safety Cam Bynum.
The Vikings responded by driving down to the 49ers’ 32-yard line and draining them of all their timeouts (one of which was burned earlier in the half), to set up a 50-yard Greg Joseph field goal attempt.
Purdy and the offense got one last chance, with 1:12 remaining and no timeouts.
The first ball was batted away, as the rapturous Minnesota crowd got into it. A couple of first downs got them to the Minnesota 40-yard line with 34 seconds remaining. Both throws to Ray-Ray McCloud over the middle of the field had burned precious seconds.
There was an unlikely, but legitimate chance.
Buy once again, Purdy found Bynum, for another interception, and another loss. There will be much soul searching to do for this 49ers team and Purdy in particular.
Major questions of the defense (and Steve Wilks)
The 49ers have spent quite a bit of money to construct a defensive front that can pressure a quarterback with four players. They were mostly unsuccessful in that respect on Monday night, and didn’t sack Cousins once on 45 drop backs.
As that progressed, it seemed defensive coordinator Steve Wilks felt a need to dial up pressure. That did not work, and it resulted in the most damning defensive play of the game, and at least the most bizarre.
With 17 seconds left in the half and the Vikings at their own 40-yard line, Wilks called for a six-man pressure.
It should have been a Charvarius Ward interception. Instead, it was an immaculate Jordan Addison touchdown, in a reversal of fortune from the opening drive. On that first drive, Ward ripped the ball away from Addison for an interception. This time, Addison stole a pick for a touchdown.
It’s a play where a safety almost assuredly would have been on Addison had Wilks not called for the blitz. It might have set up a field goal, but not a touchdown.
Earlier in the game, the Vikings jumped out to a 10-0 lead because of a perfect blitz beater. With two 49ers blitzing off the edge, Minnesota had a screen go right at it, and Cam Akers rumbled down to the 2-yard line.
The 49ers seemed generally unable to stop Kirk Cousins, who was 35-of-45 with 378 yards, 2 TDs and an INT.
They got incredibly lucky at the start of the fourth quarter that Cousins missed a wide-open touchdown to Jordan Addison, and even luckier in the fourth when he nearly connected with K.J. Osborn on a back-shoulder throw. Osborn almost came down with the ball, but came down hard on the turf and the ball jolted loose.
That set up a 4th-and-4 at the San Francisco 42-yard line. Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell inexplicably opted to punt the ball, which bounced into the end zone for a touchback.
But Purdy turned the ball over twice, badly, and O’Connell was not punished. The defense grew into the game, but they failed to pressure Cousins. It was not an inspiring performance.
Jake Moody stressfest
It is clear the Jake Moody experience is not for the faint of heart.
The much-maligned third-round pick missed two kicks against the Browns, a 54-yarder and a would-be game-winning 41-yarder. Maybe chalk it up to the wind in Cleveland?
That shaky performance could maybe have gone by the wayside with a confident one under a roof on Monday.
Instead, Moody badly missed his first attempt, from 40 yards. The feeling was clear: this is a problem.
But Moody made both of his extra points, and at the start of the fourth quarter, Kyle Shanahan called on him in a massive situation. With a 4th-and-6 at the Minnesota 37-yard line, Shanahan opted to line Moody up from 55 yards.
Moody obliged, hitting the 55-yarder down the pike. It was a kick that exemplified the fact we don’t know what to expect from Moody when he lines up, and probably doesn’t shut the door on potentially bringing in a veteran kicker… perhaps Robbie Gould? At the very least, though, it probably slows that process down.