It looks like the San Francisco 49ers will be just fine after all.
After the panic button was fully pressed following a three-game losing streak and Brock Purdy’s first struggles as an NFL quarterback, the Niners look every bit as elite as they’ve always been following their dominant 34-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Niners not only pulled off the win on the road while playing as far away from home as possible, they did it by outdoing their opponent in every major aspect of the game — turnovers, time of possession, rushing and quarterback play.
And just like that, the Niners are 6-3, ranked among the top three teams in the conference after Week 10.
Over the past few weeks, there’s little doubt that San Francisco showed some flaws. It became clear that if the game goes off script and the Niners are playing from behind, Purdy is less than perfect. With that being said, San Francisco was playing without two of its best offensive players in Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams during that stretch.
Furthermore, despite his less-than-perfect performances over the past three weeks, he put the team in position to win against the Cleveland Browns — they missed a game-winning field goal at the end — and the Niners had a chance to knock off the Minnesota Vikings on their final drive before Purdy’s interception in Vikings territory sealed it.
With his best receiving weapon and his franchise tackle back in the equation, Purdy looked flawless. In other words, he looked like the quarterback that started out his career 10-0.
Purdy and the Niners did it while dominating a team that had won five straight games.
“It’s huge,” Purdy said of San Francisco snapping a three-game losing streak. “When you lose three in a row, obviously, you want to get back on track. But we’ve taken every single game seriously. We never got complacent or anything. For this one, we came in with the right mindset, backs against the wall in a sense.”
For all of the critiques about Purdy and his limitations as a passer, he sure didn’t look limited with Samuel stretching the field and Williams protecting his blindside. Purdy outplayed his much more hyped rival on the field — former No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence — as he completed 19-of-26 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns with zero turnovers. By comparison, Lawrence passed for just 185 yards on 6.4 yards per pass attempt with two interceptions and five sacks.
Speaking of sacks, this new-look Niners defense featuring former No. 2 pick Chase Young could potentially emerge as the best pass-rushing unit in the NFL. Yes, even better than the Philadelphia Eagles’ vaunted front. San Francisco had three sacks on Lawrence in the first half and five overall by the end of the third quarter.
Every one of San Francisco’s starting defensive linemen — Young, Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave and Nick Bosa — had at least a partial sack in this game.
Because of the line’s dominance, the return of Samuel and Williams along with the crisp quarterback play by Purdy, the Niners once again reminded people of why they were considered the NFC’s team to beat at the beginning of the season.
George Kittle — who had four receptions for 116 receiving yards and a 66-yard touchdown — spoke of the impact of having Samuel back in the lineup.
“What Deebo brings to the table is a lot,” Kittle explained after the game. “Especially when we line him up, when you can move him and Christian (McCaffrey), you can interchange them, the defense has to account for a lot of stuff.
The Niners had seven plays that went for at least 20 yards, including six passes by Purdy alone.
“When you can sustain longer drives and you don’t have penalties on first or second down and you’re not turning the ball over, yes, that’s Niners football,” said Kittle after the win. You take all of our motions and all of that stuff, there’s a lot for the defense to process every single play. And when you have that capability, it gets the defense on their heels.”
Assuming the team can remain healthy, it’s hard to find a more talented squad in the NFL. The Niners feature the best running back in the game, arguably the best defense and defensive line, the most versatile receiver in Samuel and one of the top tight ends in Kittle.
They also happen to have a quarterback who just led the team to an NFC Championship Game appearance in his first season as a starting quarterback.
They’ve been able to accumulate so much talent on this roster — including the recent trade acquisition of Young and the offseason free agent signing of the $84 million Hargrave — due to former seventh-round pick Purdy’s $870,000 base salary.
The NFC is an extremely flawed conference. While the Seattle Seahawks have managed to keep pace with the Niners through the midseason point, struggles by quarterback Geno Smith and the offense will likely prevent them from challenging the Niners for supremacy in the division.
And while the Philadelphia Eagles are 8-1 and atop of the NFC, they’ve been far from perfect with Jalen Hurts throwing eight interceptions, the fifth-highest total in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Eagles currently rank a lowly 20th in points allowed per game.
Despite the Niners’ recent rough stretch of play, they still entered Week 10 ranked fourth in the NFL in points allowed per game. Meanwhile, San Francisco also ranked second in the league in margin of victory — they’ll be first after their 31-point victory over the Jaguars — entering Week 10, ahead of the Eagles’ ranking of No. 7 in the same category.
The Niners have yet to face this Eagles team with a healthy Purdy at quarterback. They’ll have their first opportunity to do so when they visit the Eagles for NFC supremacy in Week 13.
But while it remains to be seen which team will prevail in the biggest regular season game of the 2023 season, one thing is for certain — the Niners aren’t going anywhere.
San Francisco is still an elite team and arguably the team to beat in the NFC.