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49eers Notebook: Brock Purdy shows his ‘slitheriness’; The turning point for both teams; Jimmie Ward defends his hit on Seahawks’ Geno Smith

Jan 14, 2023 at 9:57 PM--

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The 49ers opened their postseason in style Saturday with a 41-23 win over the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round. But the game wasn't always as lopsided as the final score indicates, with the Seahawks holding a 17-16 lead heading into halftime.

Some fancy footwork and timely passing from quarterback Brock Purdy combined with a crucial takeaway by the 49ers defense helped turn things around in the second half. Those topics were among many discussed by players after the game, and we'll dive into both of them and much more in this edition of 49ers Notebook.

Mr. Slitheriness

Slitheriness isn't a word, but it might be as good of a way as any to discuss the off-schedule playmaking ability of Brock Purdy.

Purdy, for better or worse, has shown a knack for escaping the pocket and running away from the defense to keep plays alive. Last week, in the regular season finale against the Arizona Cardinals, Purdy made the mistake of holding onto the ball for too long after escaping the pass rush and taking a 17-yard loss after running out of bounds. Purdy didn't make any of those mistakes against the Seahawks, instead using his legs to help create multiple big plays.

"It's great to see the things he does back there when you think he's sacked and his little slitheriness getting out of stuff," wide receiver Deebo Samuel said after the game, inventing a term for Purdy's scrambling ability in the process.

Purdy almost made a particularly dazzling pass late in the game when he kept a play alive for several seconds before firing a would-be touchdown to Brandon Aiyuk in the back of the end zone. Aiyuk dropped the pass, costing Purdy a highlight play to remember in the process.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan isn't 100 percent comfortable with what Purdy may or may not do when he escapes the pocket, but he tipped his cap to his young quarterback nonetheless after the plays he made on Saturday.

"He was great on some," Shanahan said. "That last one, it was very close. It was unbelievable the throw he made in the corner to BA. I know he just missed that, but he's got a feel for it. It definitely makes me nervous on some of it, but he did a hell of a job getting away. He knows his body. He's out there and can see how close he is to those guys. He tries to never give up on a play and he's been very smart with the ball so far, so I appreciate he's doing it."

Relying on his legs to make plays isn't exactly something Purdy views as an ideal situation, but it's something he's always been able to do and will continue to attempt if the situation calls for it in the NFL.

"It's not something that I go into a play were scramble and do this and that," Purdy said. "I want to go through my progressions and stuff. But I feel like the instinct that I have of playing football throughout the years of if something's not there, the play can still be alive. It's sort of in the back of my mind. So growing up, I've been able to scramble and make plays off-schedule, so in those moments, a couple of those touchdowns, I think it's something I've always done my whole life in terms of finding a way when it's not there."

And as long as he's going to do it, the rest of the 49ers offense will need to learn to keep up.

"It kind of makes us a little tired because we've got to run around too and try to get open, but it works," Samuel said. "As long as Brock's doing his thing, we're going to ride with him."

The turning point

The 49ers made a number of big plays against the Seahawks in the second half, but there was one in particular that changed the face of the game and started a downward spiral for the Seahawks.

The 49ers went up 23-17 on a touchdown drive to start the third quarter, then the Seahawks answered with a long drive of their own that seemed destined to end in either a touchdown or a field goal. But on a 2nd-and-9 from the 49ers' 14-yard line, the Seahawks were flagged for an ineligible man downfield, which set up a 2nd-and-14. After an incomplete pass on second down, 49ers defensive lineman Charles Omenihu broke through for a strip sack on Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, which was recovered at the 30-yard line by defensive end Nick Bosa.

Momentum shifted permanently after that play to the 49ers, who turned the fumble into a touchdown and a two-point conversion, then followed that up with a touchdown on their next offensive possession. It was a big moment for a defense that wasn't at their best for much of the first half.

"Oh, it was huge," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "That was our first turnover. Once we got the turnover that's when I feel like the momentum completely changed for the whole game and it took him a while. He was in that pocket for a little bit. The longer they're in there, the more people get open and off-schedule timing, so I was worried the whole time and then the ball went down on the ground and all I was asking, just jump on it please. We had a couple the last time we played him and they beat us to it and then once he did jump on it, I kind of was wishing he scooped and ran with it, but regardless I think we ended up scoring, so it was a huge play in the game and I think once our defense did that, I think they got their mojo back and played great. It was awesome to be able to protect some of them there that last drive."

Bosa wanted to make sure Omenihu got credit for the play, so after he was shown on the stadium's jumbotron following the fumble recovery, he pointed to Omenihu to make sure the fans knew who caused the turnover.

"Bosa's a team guy," Omenihu said. "He's an incredible player, but he's also a selfless player. Bosa doesn't care who gets it done. He said it yesterday, he said it today. He doesn't care who gets it done, he just wants to win. When your best player on your defense and on your team feels that way, the energy goes around towards everybody."

The Seahawks viewed the illegal man downfield penalty as the beginning of the end.

"Unfortunately we got the penalty called on us," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. "And so we're on 3rd & 12 (14), I think it was. And the last thing that you want to do is get sacked and lose the football there because we were in field goal range. We would've taken the field goal at that time and we would've been feeling okay about it. And we'd give the ball to them and then they'd go down the field. I think they scored after that. Then we couldn't keep them from scoring. They moved the ball in those next three drives, and they made plays. The quarterback did a really good job of staying alive and their guys made some things happen. So, it's the turnovers. Yeah, it always is."

A big mistake or not?

From the outside looking in, it seemed like defensive back Jimmie Ward's late hit on Geno Smith towards the end of the first half was a decision he would look back upon with regret. But Ward didn't take that approach after the game, saying he made the right decision to hit Smith and that perhaps the penalty he was given was the incorrect call.

The hit occurred with seconds remaining in the first half. Ward hit Smith as he slid to the ground at the end of a 9-yard run and was then flagged for a 15-yard penalty, which put the Seahawks in position to kick a field goal as time expired to take a one-point lead into the half. Ward called the hit a "bang-bang play" and said he did what he thought he should have done based on his film study of Smith in the past.

"I feel like it was a smart play by me," Ward said. "I watch film of the guy, and he ducks his shoulder. That was so last minute. I want to say I made the tackle before his knee hit the ground, but you know how this league is. They're trying to make it safer for the quarterbacks, and I think that's the reason why he probably flagged me because I still think that was a fair play and I think it was a bang-bang play."

The 49ers scored 25 unanswered points to start the second half, so Ward's penalty ultimately had no impact on the outcome of the game. If the game had stayed close, or if the Seahawks would have won, there's no doubt there'd be a lot more chatter about that particular moment.

First, second and third time's a charm

There were those heading into Saturday's game against the Seahawks who were concerned that the 49ers would have trouble beating a division opponent for the third time in a single season, but there were others who thought the 49ers would cruise to victory over a team that trailed by double digits throughout much of their two regular season meetings. Saturday's result was a mix of both.

Defensive end Nick Bosa said he was a little nervous when the 49ers were trailing at halftime, admitting that it wasn't easy to beat the Seahawks for a third consecutive game.

"They came in with a really good game plan, and three times playing a team, it is real. It's tough," Bosa said. "They had some different looks that kind of threw us off in the run game and number nine (Kenneth Walker) was really being patient -- a little more patient than we were used to. So we had to adjust and really just attack in the run game to knock back so he couldn't find those lanes and get those extra yards."

The 49ers have seemingly turned the tide in their rivalry with the Seahawks, which was lopsided in the Seahawks' favor for several years. The Seahawks had won 17 of 21 games in the rivalry between 2012 and 2021 before the 49ers took three straight this season.

"Actually I'm pretty sure the data says 66 percent of the teams win the third game anyways," tight end George Kittle said. "So I think that just is what it is. It's a fun statistic and we just proved them all wrong."

High praise

49ers All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams had some glowing words for head coach Kyle Shanahan on Saturday after his offense rolled up over 500 yards in the win over the Seahawks.

The offense has been running on all cylinders over the past several games, with Williams certainly playing his part. But Shanahan has been on his game as well, which has been as big of a factor as any in the team's current 11-game winning streak.

"I think his track record speaks for itself," Williams said. "He's the most brilliant offensive mind that the game has to offer and he has some of the most dangerous weapons the game has to offer."

What makes Shanahan so good?

"I think he's just so detailed," Williams said. "He just knows the game of football like nobody I've ever been around. And not just Xs and Os but how players react. He reads players. He watches opponents throughout the whole week and by Thursday, Friday he can tell you exactly what this guy's favorite deal is, how he likes to drop, how he likes defend. And I think that helps the team. It gives us a lot of knowledge going into the game and it comes from obviously a high level. I think Kyle's done a great job with that."

Harsh self-criticism

On the other side of those 500-plus yards of offense was the Seahawks defense, who were left searching for answers after being run over in the second half. Defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson didn't hold anything back when describing his unit's performance.

"They whipped our ass," Jefferson said. "They could do whatever they wanted. It was a frustrating game."

The Seahawks were picked by many to be one of the worst teams in the NFL after trading away quarterback Russell Wilson in the offseason, but they defied expectations by making a run to the playoffs. But once they were there, the 49ers reminded them they have some work to do before being a true Super Bowl contender.

"I feel like this is a microcosm of the season," Jefferson said. "We squandered the opportunity. We come in at halftime 17-16. I don't know if folks thought the game was over with, but it was a dog fight. We play a team in their house and they weren't going to let us take it. It was going to be a fight. It was a four-quarter game and we only played two and that was the end result. They whipped us."

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