The most impressive part about watching the Niners, who haven’t lost in 12 weeks, is obviously that a third-string quarterback, Brock Purdy, has won seven straight games. (He played all but four minutes of his first game, a win over Miami, after replacing Jimmy Garoppolo, and has won six starts since then.) There’s also the small matter of the 49ers having the best defense in football. But there’s something else that surfaced often in the Wild Card win over Seattle.
On Deebo Samuel’s 74-yard TD catch early in the fourth quarter, fellow wideout Brandon Aiyuk engaged rookie corner Tariq Woolen of the Seahawks down the left side, paving the way for Samuel. Aiyuk blocked Woolen for 5.78 seconds, per my iPhone stopwatch. This is one of the things you hear when you’re around the Niners: Everyone blocks. No one matadors it.
“What I love about this team,” tight end George Kittle said afterward, “is we have so many fantastic football players that are great at YAC [yards after the catch] so when one of our best players gets the ball, every other guy wants to block for him. You can see the effort on film. If you noticed, Aiyuk’s block was smart—no holding, kept his hands inside. That’s how our whole team is built.”
Same with a cutback run by Christian McCaffrey earlier in the game. Look who was in the middle of the fray as McCaffrey, looking to be stopped for a loss of one or two yards running wide left, cut back against the grain to fight for nine. Kittle was in the middle of it, jousting with a Seahawk. It’s hard in today’s football, which doesn’t reward all-around play in headlines or oft-times in contract negotiations, to tell the Aiyuks and Kittles: You block, and you block great, or you don’t play. But that’s a message Kyle Shanahan has gotten across in his tenure, and it showed up against Seattle.
The Niners’ ethos was on display in this game. You know what Victory Monday is in the NFL? The regular off-day for most teams is Tuesday, if they’re playing the following Sunday. After a win, many coaches give the players Victory Monday, or an extra day off, and will tell their players, See you Wednesday morning. The Niners, evidently, have many players who don’t want the extra day off. After the Wild Card win, on the 49ers radio network, veteran fullback Kyle Juszczyk said: “We’ve had a few Victory Mondays now, and I come in on Mondays, and I can’t find a parking spot.”
Now to Purdy. I thought the most amazing play he made in this game was an incompletion on a scramble drill. On a third down from the Seattle 13- with five minutes left in the game, he took a shotgun snap, surveyed the secondary, found no one open, scrambled left, found no one open, sprinted right, waited and waited and, 11.8 seconds after taking the snap, fired to Aiyuk in the right corner of the end zone; he got both hands on it while toe-tapping the end line but couldn’t hold on. A magnificent play. Kittle had the same thought I did: All those games at Iowa State, 48 of them in a Power Five conference, made a very big difference in Purdy the 2022 NFLer.
“I think Brock’s experience in college really helped him today,” Kittle said. “Everything didn’t go well in the first half, but he came out in the second half and was totally confident in the huddle. You could feel it. When he’s confident, we’re confident, and he just makes us play at a higher level. He’s been in a little trouble at halftime before. A lot of times, probably. He’s played from behind before; he’s played from ahead before. He has all the repetitions. Failure is a big part of learning to play quarterback in the NFL, and he had success and failure in college, so nothing here is really new for him.
“Football humbles you a lot. I think when you’ve been humbled in college, you kind of realize how hard football is and you realize what it takes to win. I think Brock has realized that—and he realizes failing is good for you on the road to success.”
I could not have said that better. Losing in Austin at age 18, in Stillwater at age 19, in Norman at age 20, in Iowa City at age 21—but also winning 29 college games in four Big 12 seasons—gave Purdy the kind of pedigree that makes it possible for him to act like he’s been there. “What’s crazy to me is where he was drafted,” safety Jimmie Ward said on the Niners’ post-game radio show. “Was it because he’s a little short? His hand size? You gotta draft people for being players. This guy’s a dog.”
Ward meant that affectionately. As the Niners advance to the NFL’s elite eight, no one’s arguing.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column