HomeSports49ers seal NFC West behind 'poised' Brock Purdy, suffocating defense

49ers seal NFC West behind ‘poised’ Brock Purdy, suffocating defense

SEATTLE — Fred Warner has been in this spot before. This time, he noted, he made sure to enjoy the moment.

Three years ago, the San Francisco 49ers won the NFC West in prime time at Lumen Field before advancing to the Super Bowl. 

So, it’s only fitting that Warner and a similarly-built 49ers squad with title aspirations clinched the division again by going on the road and taking care of the Seattle Seahawks 21-13 on Thursday Night Football. 

“Knowing that we got it in this fashion, in this atmosphere again, it means the world,” Warner said. “It was a complete team win. We needed everybody and I’m super proud of our group.” 

Under siege by the star linebacker and the rest of the Niners’ defense throughout the night, the Seahawks amassed only 277 total yards of offense. They didn’t reach the red zone until late in the fourth quarter and went 4-of-13 on third down. They also failed to protect quarterback Geno Smith, who took three sacks, was hit another six times and averaged just 4.4 yards per pass play.

For the 49ers, it was yet another demonstration on a national stage that they have perhaps the best defense in the league. 

San Francisco has now clinched the division sooner than in its previous two instances — 2019, 2012 — both of which led to Super Bowl appearances. The club also sits just a half-game back of the Vikings for the NFC’s No. 2 seed. Just as important, the win demonstrated that even with rookie quarterback Brock Purdy filling in for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers remain a legitimate threat to make a title run.  

Playing a mere four days after suffering oblique and rib injuries, Purdy did not throw in practice this week, only testing his health with a few throws during walk-through at the team hotel Thursday and in pregame warm-ups.

“I was getting some rehab myself and he was hurting last night,” San Francisco defensive lineman Arik Armstead said of Purdy. “And today, to gut it out and have that type of performance, it shows how tough he is and shows his character.” 

Warner added: “I really haven’t had to say anything to him. Sometimes, you see a rookie quarterback — or a rookie in general — and you go over to him, let him know, ‘Hey, I got your back.’ But I really haven’t felt the need to do that to him, because I know what Brock’s made of. And I know he’s ready to go.” 

The Iowa State product didn’t appear affected by the injury. Purdy played with poise in his first road contest as a pro by completing his first 10 passes. He finished 17-of-26 for 217 yards with two touchdown passes and no interceptions, posting a 117.0 passer rating.

Purdy’s effort included converting a third-and-1 from San Francisco’s 34-yard line with 2:42 remaining and the game in the balance. The spry QB rolled to his right off play-action and scrambled for the first down, sliding inbounds to move the chains and keep the clock running. Jordan Mason soon sealed the win with a 55-yard run that enabled the Niners to kneel the ball.

“He’s definitely the most poised rookie [quarterback] I’ve ever had,” coach Kyle Shanahan said of Purdy. “He’s been like that since he’s gotten here.”

It was still only 12 days ago that Purdy relieved Garoppolo and led the Niners over the Dolphins in the first extended action of his young career. This past Sunday, he made his debut start and outplayed Tom Brady in a blowout against the Buccaneers. Thursday, he earned his first road win in one of football’s most hostile environments versus the rival Seahawks for the NFC West crown. 

Quite a grand entry into the NFL for Mr. Irrelevant, huh?

“It’s special and everything,” Purdy said. “But honestly, I’m just another component, another piece to this team, in terms of a guy coming in and doing what he’s asked. I’m the quarterback. I have to make decisions. I trust how the coaches are teaching me each week. I just try to get the balls out to the guys on time.” 

San Francisco improved to 10-4 with the win, the team’s seventh straight, while the Seahawks dropped to 7-7 on the year and are currently out of the playoff field. 

Nick Bosa recorded three QB hits and a sack, upping his total to 15.5 on the season and matching his career high from last year. He becomes the first 49er with multiple 15-sack seasons since the stat became official in 1982. 

Safety Talanoa Hufanga and defensive end Samson Emukam also notched sacks. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw made the most impactful play of the game. With San Francisco leading 7-3 and 1:27 left in the first half, the fourth-year standout delivered a big blow to Seattle running back Travis Homer, dislodging the ball.

Cornerback Charvarius Ward scooped up the fumble and returned it 40 yards to Seattle’s 6-yard line. Two plays later, Christian McCaffrey plunged in from a yard out for the touchdown, providing the Niners a 14-3 cushion at halftime.

McCaffrey finished with 138 scrimmage yards, including 108 on the ground on 26 carries. 

Tight end George Kittle made the biggest plays offensively, scoring twice on innovative designs from offensive mastermind Shanahan that badly fooled Seattle’s defense.

The first TD came on a fake, double-screen pass called “Hollywood” that left Kittle wide open for the opening score of the game. The former All-Pro would find pay dirt again early in the second half, this time on a 54-yard run-and-catch where he was the last read on the play, according to Shanahan. That gave San Francisco a commanding 21-3 lead. It briefly looked to be 28-3 following a pick-six, only for Bosa to be called for a controversial roughing the passer that negated the defensive score. 

Seattle had its fair share of penalties and missed opportunities contributing to its fate. DK Metcalf was called for an offensive pass interference that negated a big play. The Pro Bowl wideout was also flagged for taunting. Quandre Diggs dropped an interception at midfield on a rare mistake by Purdy. The Seahawks were charged with eight accepted penalties for 79 yards. 

Ward did a nice job of bottling up Metcalf before leaving the game late for a concussion evaluation. (The CB cleared protocol but did not return.) Metcalf totaled seven receptions for 55 yards. Veteran receiver Tyler Lockett suffered a broken finger that could sideline him for the rest of what has been another stellar season. 

The Seahawks’ will end in three weeks if they don’t quickly right the ship on both sides of the ball.

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Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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