We are a few weeks away from the beginning of the post-season hunt. Franchises are focusing on winning their upcoming slate of games. Wins could provide teams with better seeding in playoff brackets. Loses will derail projections. It's still too early to decide which franchises deserve an extended season. The San Francisco 49ers were Super Bowl frontrunners before a 19-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Brock Purdy failed to capture a victory without his primary weapons. Can he still lead the 49ers to the playoffs?
The San Francisco 49ers struggled without Deebo Samuels and Christian McCaffery
Undefeated seasons are impressive but hard to achieve. Franchises become a target when they experience success early in the season. Their opponents prepare harder to add a blemishes to perfect records. Kyle Shanahan's squad is familiar with this feeling. Consecutive wins convinced NFL analysts San Francisco would clinch the post-season. Stout defensive performances and offensive explosions are the norm but did not equate to a win on Sunday.
A 10-7 49ers lead at halftime surprised fans watching the game. It was the first time Shanahan's offense scored less than 14 points in the opening half this season. Injuries to Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffery were part of the problem. Brock Purdy struggled to move the ball without his playmakers. He was inaccurate and hesitant against Cleveland's stifling defense. San Francisco battled for the lead until the last minutes in the fourth quarter.
Jim Schwartz's unit played well in their first statement game of the campaign. They limited big plays and created turnovers (1). Their efforts allowed PJ Washington to play with enough confidence to secure a monumental win. The Browns sent a message to the league Sunday afternoon. They rank third in pass rush (89.6) and twelfth in defensive grading (73.3) and are a determined group.
Can the San Francisco 49ers rely on Brock Purdy moving forward?
Hiccups against the Browns should not hinder the 49ers' success in the future. They faced a stingy defense and made a few mistakes. It happens to the best teams throughout the regular season. A gut-wrenching loss is exactly what the 49ers need to continue their season. They lost control when X-Factors exited the game. Few players stepped up. The distinguished players left in the game did little to impact the result. George Kittle played until the final whistle. He recorded two receptions totaling one yard.
There are a handful of reasons why the 49ers lost Sunday. The difference in Brock Purdy was the most concerning. We've witnessed the former seventh-rounder perform at a high level consistently. He won ten games in a row before Sunday's debacle. Purdy ranks eighth in touchdown passes (10) and eleventh in passing yards (1,396). Samuels and McCaffery's absence forced the second-year gunslinger to find other options. He finished the afternoon with his season low in passing yards (125) and quarterback rating (55.3).
A loss to the Cleveland Browns is not the end of the world. Kyle Shanahan's squad lost embarrassingly, but there's more football left to play. We can expect the 49ers to learn from their Week 6 mistakes. Brock Purdy will reassure fans by progressing from Sunday's blunders. He led the 49ers into Browns terriory. It's not his fault Jake Moody missed a 41 yard field goal. Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffery will continue to rest so they can join the team down the line.
All statistics courtesy of pff.com.