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Brock Purdy Lost On 2 Fronts, And Is Just Fine On A 3rd, After Worst Game Of His 49ers Career | TheSportsDay Brock Purdy Lost On 2 Fronts, And Is Just Fine On A 3rd, After Worst Game Of His 49ers Career | TheSportsDay

Brock Purdy lost on 2 fronts, and is just fine on a 3rd, after worst game of his 49ers career

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Brock Purdy dropped back, spotted wide receiver Deebo Samuel flashing across the end zone and fired.

Then the San Francisco 49ers quarterback realized his mistakes.

The Baltimore Ravens were flashing a two-high safety look that Purdy had been trained to interpret as a warning sign to progress past Samuel in his reads. To make matters worse: After seeing Samuel find space, the 49ers’ second-year quarterback threw the ball late.

Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton intercepted the pass, the 49ers’ otherwise explosive and rhythmic opening drive concluding unceremoniously.

For the first time in his NFL career, per the “Monday Night Football” broadcast, Purdy had thrown an interception on the first drive of a game.

By the end of the 49ers’ 33-19 loss, Purdy would add another first: his first four-interception game. He had never tossed more than two.

“I thought the first one was a big mistake,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said, “and the other three were pretty unfortunate for him.”

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) reacts after throwing an interception during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) reacts after throwing an interception during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) reacts after throwing an interception during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

On a nationally televised stage, in the rare late-season matchup of the NFC and AFC’s best teams, Purdy lost on two fronts and projects just fine on a third.

The last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, along with his San Francisco team, lost a heavyweight matchup. Purdy also lost his grip on the NFL MVP race, his resoundingly superior statistics pitting him as the favorite entering this game.

But what Purdy didn’t lose is the chance to take the 49ers all the way nor the chance to quarterback the NFC’s top-seeded team into the postseason.

He reflected postgame on not just the errors he made but also the route forward to reestablish consistent play.

“I’ve got to ask myself: ‘Who are you? What do you stand for? Who are you when things are good? Who are you when things don’t go your way?’” Purdy said. “It’s easy to be riding high and thinking you’re the man when things are going well, and you’re winning games and stuff and you don’t really see a whole lot of adversity in some games and what not. This is the reality of the NFL.

“I know who I am and I’m not going to waver.”

Unpacking Purdy’s unusual interceptions

Purdy’s first interception represented the worst decision in his coach’s eyes but also the least costly on the scoreboard.

The 49ers’ defense (and an unusual collision with an official) forced a safety and San Francisco also chipped in a field goal before Baltimore got on the board. The Ravens earned no points off the 49ers’ first takeaway.

Then, Purdy seemed more unlucky than undisciplined.

On the second play of the second quarter, Purdy targeted Samuel, who this time was open about 2 yards past the line of scrimmage, near the left sideline. But Ravens cornerback Brandon Stephens “made a hell of a play blitzing,” in Shanahan’s words, as Stephens jumped and tipped the ball. Fellow corner Marlon Humphrey caught the airborne ball.

This time, Jackson led the Ravens on an 11-play, 53-yard touchdown drive to give the Ravens their first lead of the night — and one they would never relinquish.

The hole only deepened on the 49ers’ next possession when Purdy rolled out to his left and threw on the run to tight end George Kittle in the middle of the field. Kittle had already tracked 91 yards in the first quarter of the game, making plays from the 49ers’ go-to middle of the field on a day when the Ravens’ tight coverage stifled the zone. But this ball ricocheted off Kittle and into the hands of Hamilton.

The quarterback who had never thrown three interceptions in 23 prior career games now had three credited to him in the first half alone.

“When things are in my mind, ‘OK, you’ve messed up a couple times, I’ve got to find a way to make a play,’ that’s where I think I have to grow,” Purdy said after his 18-of-32, 255-yard day resulted in a 42.6 rating far below the league-best 119.0 mark he averaged the first 15 weeks of the season. “Be willing when a bad play happens to throw the ball away. Punt the ball. The game’s still manageable to come back.

“Those are things I have to get better at and understand.”

The mindset could also help Purdy avoid the scenario of his final pick, a pass released with 12:07 to play in the third quarter as Baltimore nose tackle Travis Jones hit him. Shanahan confirmed Purdy’s read in his progression was right. But instead of a checkdown attempt finding its intended target in Christian McCaffrey, Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen nabbed the errant throw.

“I have to look myself in the mirror and ask myself why or how that happened, and why I made those decisions,” Purdy said. “Our team came ready to play and for me to make some decisions like that, it pains me. And it’s not fair to those guys. I have to realize that and understand that.

“I have to get better for my team.”

Are 49ers, Purdy more vulnerable moving forward?

Minds across the NFL world began spinning as the Ravens toppled a 49ers team that seemed invincible.

Could other teams throw a cocktail of coverages at the 49ers the way Baltimore did, marrying rush and coverage as well as plastering on extended plays until Purdy’s only options are risky ones?

“They’re the 1 seed in the AFC for a reason,” Kittle said. “They did a really good job the first couple series [with] different defensive fronts the whole time. You’re trying to go against nickel, against base, five down, four down. You’re trying to call the right play to go against those things.

“They obviously did a great job of taking away our middle stuff.”

Purdy acknowledged after the loss how little room for error there was against a defense that yields such tight windows. While Purdy’s passer rating, passing touchdowns and completion percentage have been among the league’s best all year, elusive teammates and a series of blowouts have minimized his need to play aggressive.

Purdy entered the week ranking 31st among quarterbacks in Next Gen Stats’ aggressiveness category that measures the percentage of throws that are into tight coverage, to a target within 1 yard of a defender. Through 15 weeks, Purdy had completed the fourth-highest percentage of throws among eligible quarterbacks but ranked ninth in completion percentage over expectation (still impressive, while also reflective of the relative difficulty).

So in theory, was a path to unsettling Purdy revealed? Yes: The more he’s swarmed by defensive linemen, confused by shifting coverages and denied open targets, the more likely his throws will end in interceptions.

But also: The above paragraph applies universally to quarterbacks across the league and across NFL history. More likely, the rest of the league’s defenses won’t have the firepower and scheme to execute what the Ravens just did. And Purdy, who has been reliable for two years and superb the rest of this season, will learn. The series of literal bad bounces are likely to regress to the norm.

“I just kept telling Brock: ‘Keep slinging it, man,’” Kittle said. “‘We’re the 1 seed in the NFC for a reason, because you sling the ball, you get it to our playmakers in space.’

“Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way and what are you going to do? Are you going to dwell on it, or are you going to move on and go try to kick someone else’s ass?”

Shanahan, Purdy and linebacker Fred Warner echoed versions of the sentiment, voicing their disappointment but not their discouragement as their 11-4 record still positions them atop the NFC with regular-season games to play against the Washington Commanders and Los Angeles Rams.

The 49ers have already clinched the NFC West title. They have a 79% chance of earning the NFC’s first-round bye, per The New York Times’ playoff predictor, and their franchise arsenal should still inspire fear across the league. So should their quarterback.

Did Purdy almost certainly eliminate himself from the MVP race on Monday? Yes. Did he hurt the 49ers’ chances at a deep postseason run? He did not.

“The fact he’s played this long and never had a big game like this, that’s unusual. That’s the reality of the NFL,” Shanahan said. “We played a good team, didn’t play our best football today and that’s what happens. We lost a game that we really wanted to win. We knew this was a big one. Our guys are real disappointed tonight. They should be.

“But when it comes down to it, we’re still in the same [playoff] situation that we were in before the game started. We got to take care of our business.”

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