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Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

3 takeways from 49ers’ 33-19 loss to Ravens

Dec 25, 2023 at 9:10 PM--

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In a stunning upset, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers by a deceptively close margin of 33-19.

Despite a few explosive plays and defensive stands in the first half, the 49ers went into halftime with a 4-point deficit, largely due to three early interceptions. Despite receiving the ball out of halftime, a Niners three-and-out gave way to a total collapse, with the Ravens scoring two touchdowns in 18 seconds around a fourth Brock Purdy interception. Down by 18, the 49ers eventually mounted a vigorous rally under backup QB Sam Darnold, but ultimately fell well short. They fall to 0-38 under Kyle Shanahan when trailing by 8 or more points in the 4th quarter.

Here are three quick takeaways from the 49ers' 33-19 Christmas night loss to the Ravens.

Purdy's picks pile up

49ers QB Brock Purdy entered Christmas Day leading the league in a plethora of important categories: passer rating, yards per attempt, and MVP odds, to name a few. As such, a matchup against an elite Baltimore defense offered him the chance to stamp yet another mark in his MVP candidacy. The result? 4 interceptions, a 56.3% completion percentage, and a career-worst 42.6 passer rating as a starter.

The tumult began with a red zone interception reminiscent of former 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo. With two safeties lined up on the goal line, Purdy looked to hit WR Deebo Samuel on a slant up the middle. Purdy never saw Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton, who cut in front of Deebo and secured his first interception of the day.

From there, things simply spiraled. On the 49ers' third drive, a short pass intended for Deebo was broken up by Ravens CB Brandon Stephens, where it bounced up and into the waiting hands of DB Marlon Humphrey. Three plays into San Francisco's next possession, a pass breakup intended for George Kittle stayed in the air long enough for Hamilton to record his second INT of the day.

With the 49ers down 23-12 and their backs against the wall, the bottom fell completely out. Purdy found himself in a crowded pocket when he attempted a short pass to Christian McCaffrey. As he threw, his arm was struck, sending the errant ball directly into waiting arms of Baltimore LB Patrick Queen. The Ravens scored on the very next play, burying the 49ers under a lead they had no chance of recovering from.

While most of Purdy's interceptions were, individually, not indicative of a fundamental flaw in his game, the sum total of his performance was enough to raise huge questions about the 49ers' dominance in the NFL. As the game went on, the pressure on Purdy grew, and he was unable to dictate the pace of the game in the manner he's used to. With no run game to rely on, Purdy was wholly unable to put the team on his back in the manner that many of his skeptics have demanded from him.

Darnold leads spirited comeback attempt

With 8:19 left in the 4th quarter and the Niners trailing 33-12, Brock Purdy suffered a shoulder stinger. It was his second in as many games, and despite the injury not generally being a long-term concern, Purdy was lifted and replaced with backup QB Sam Darnold. Darnold, who had only thrown 6 pass attempts on the season, nevertheless led the Niners to a touchdown on that drive, connecting with rookie WR Ronnie Bell to bring the score to 33-19.

After a defensive hold that burned less than two minutes off the clock, the Niners received the ball with four and a half minutes remaining and all three timeouts. Despite a sack on the initial play, Darnold capitalized on a trio of chunk plays to Brandon Aiyuk that brought the Niners to the one yard line with over two minutes remaining. If the Niners were to score, they'd be within a touchdown and have the ability to stop the clock four times on the Ravens' final possession.

Unfortunately, a failed play-action pass and a Christian McCaffrey rush that fell short of the goal line kept the Niners from mounting a genuine threat. An 11-yard sack and a subsequent false start all but extinguished San Francisco's hopes, and Darnold threw a desperation pass to a triple-covered George Kittle that turned into Baltimore's fifth interception of the day.

Though inspiring, the writing was on the wall once Purdy left the game. That's not necessarily a slight against Darnold, either; LT Trent Williams, LT Jaylon Moore, and G Aaron Banks all left late in the game with injury. Darnold's two sacks on the penultimate drive were largely the consequence of this attrition, and the relative weakness of San Francisco's offensive front showed in their six overall sacks. Darnold certainly wasn't perfect, but the hole he needed to dig himself out of was simply too deep to climb out of.

Plenty of penalties send 49ers plummeting

After the first four drives, with 6 minutes left in the first quarter, San Francisco led by 5. Perhaps coincidentally, they didn't record a single penalty up to that point. That changed on the subsequent drive, when 49ers safety Tashaun Gipson incurred two penalties for 37 yards, a defensive pass interference and a face mask, which helped Baltimore march down for a field goal.

While penalties didn't directly destroy the 49ers' chances in this game, they were indicative of broader frustrations. With the front four struggling to close escape lanes on Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, the battered Niners secondary was forced to chase Baltimore's receivers across the field time after time. Without being able to lock things down on the back end, Baltimore's offense had all the space in the world to operate. As the Ravens pulled ahead, they were consistently able to overcome damaging penalties on offense, whereas San Francisco succumbed under the pressure.

The 49ers ended the game with 10 penalties for 102 yards, an unacceptable amount for a team with playoff aspirations. While the Ravens ended up with 6 penalties for 67 yards, they incurred multiple delay of game penalties and a defensive pass interference while playing prevent defense late in the fourth quarter. As a unit, they were tremendously more organized than San Francisco, between a superbly-executed offensive structure and a defense that forced San Francisco into short, quick throws without getting burned on the back end. For the 49ers to achieve their goal of a Super Bowl for the first time this century, they'll have to find a way to execute in the grimy, adverse conditions the Ravens presented them with on Monday.

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