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Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

49ers Notebook: Brock Purdy reveals mindset on game-winning drive; Shanahan discusses two of his peculiar decisions; McCaffrey calls his shot

Jan 21, 2024 at 1:10 AM--

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For much of Saturday night's Divisional Playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers, it appeared the underdog Packers had the 49ers' number and were on their way towards sending the heavily-favored 49ers to perhaps the most disappointing ending to a season in the Kyle Shanahan era. But the 49ers took the Packers' best shot and still found a way to win, thanks in large part to some clutch performances down the stretch.

One of those performances was from quarterback Brock Purdy, who was far from being at his best for much of the game but was able to pull together late to lead the 49ers on a game-winning drive. Purdy missed some throws early in the game, had a couple of near-interceptions and had some problems with the wet conditions, but he went 6-for-7 on the final drive including a clutch third down completion to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and a nine-yard run late in the drive that set up the game-winning touchdown run from running back Christian McCaffrey.

Purdy, who finished the game 23-of-39 for 252 yards and one touchdown, told reporters after the game he spent some time throughout the evening dwelling on his previous mistakes but was able to put them in the rearview mirror once the opportunity to win the game came about.

"There's obviously plays that you think about as the game goes on," Purdy said. "Like, 'Man, I could have been better here. I could have hit that guy. He was open. You got to just be better on third down.' Like, all that kind of stuff can run through your mind, but, um, man, it's a testament to our team because the defense got to stop at the end, field goal kicker missed, and we had what we wanted right in front of us.

"And so you have to clean the slate. You have to have a clean mind and not try to force anything. Take what the defense gives you and find a way., man. We had time on the clock, so it's not like you got to be a superhero, make a play or anything. It's do what we call the quarterback pack tells you and go through the progressions and find a way."

The final drive took over five minutes off the clock and left the Packers with just over a minute to score after McCaffrey's touchdown put the 49ers up 24-21. The drive was the most consistent of the night for the 49ers and Purdy, who said he did a better job of completing his checkdowns after not finding them earlier in the game.

"I think I was just able to go through progressions and get to the checkdown efficiently and move the chains and stay up rather than get behind," Purdy said. "Obviously, we got to a third down, BA was clutch on it and he made a great play, and you need that throughout a drive. But I think early on in the game, there were just moments where the checkdown was there and I was missing the checkdowns. Their defense did a good job with playing soft, keeping everything in front of them, sort of taking away our shots and stuff. And as a quarterback, man, you got to be efficient and hit the checkdowns. And so at the end, I was able to do that. The O-Line did great job, the boys did a great job in getting open and we found a way."

The 49ers and Purdy will obviously need to play much better if they want to reach their goal of a win in the Super Bowl, but the fact they were able to battle through the rainy weather and inconsistent play may make them harder to beat from this point on.

"I'm so excited and proud that we got it done in all aspects," Purdy said. "The defense did their thing when it mattered most. The offense did at the end. Special teams did a great job. So, for us it's like, man, it's football. Weather's going to happen and you have to find a way and we did. So that's the character of this team, that's what we stand for. And we've all got each other's back, it's not always pretty, but we've got each other's back. We got some real love in this locker room and everyone wants to play for each other."

Shanahan's head scratchers

There were at least a couple of moments on Saturday night when the decision-making of 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan left those watching the game wondering exactly what he was thinking. The most notable of those moments came at the end of the second quarter when the 49ers had the ball in Packers territory with over a minute to play and three timeouts but let time run off the clock before eventually settling for a field goal attempt, which wound up being blocked.

On the surface it seemed like the 49ers were playing for a field goal instead of trying to score a touchdown. But Shanahan denied that was the case when asked about it after the game and defended his decision by saying it prevented the Packers from getting another opportunity to score before the half.

"I like that they didn't score," Shanahan said. "I like that we won at the end of the day. We did try to score. We had a chance there on second down, thought we had a chance for BA (Brandon Aiyuk) over the middle, would have been a big play that got us inside the ten with two shots to take at the end zone. We didn't have the time to get it over the Mike, and we ended up checking it down, and then we didn't get it. But that's how it works out. I thought we make sure they don't get another chance, but it's not like we were just playing for a field goal. We called for a big play, it's just they played pretty deep."

Another strange but less consequential decision came in the third quarter when wide receiver Jauan Jennings lined up in the backfield and was given a handoff. The carry was the first of Jennings' NFL career and seemed to have come as the result of some confusion, based on Shanahan's explanation of what happened.

"Great question," Shanahan said when asked about the play. "Those are some of the challenges when something goes down and you call a wristband number and forgot to tell them not to say hesi or not to read hesi. But sometimes we just Ron Burgundy our wristbands and then you look up and Jauan's in the backfield and couldn't stop it."

Aside from that, Jennings was vital in the win for the 49ers as he caught five passes for 61 yards in the absence of injured receiver Deebo Samuel, including a leaping 21-yard catch on a 3rd-and-10 in the fourth quarter.

"Jauan's wonderful," tight end George Kittle said. "He's going to throw his body around to block. He catches everything that you throw at him. He runs the ball now, apparently. But really, how about that third down? Was it a third down across the middle? And Brock just feathered that over. Oh, my goodness gracious. So, yeah, for Jauan, he made a bunch of really good plays for us tonight."

McCaffrey predicts his touchdown

Before his game-winning run, McCaffrey gave the 49ers their second touchdown of the night when he ran in from 39 yards out to put the score at 14-13 in the third quarter. Shanahan said McCaffrey predicted earlier the play would result in a touchdown, and he turned out to be correct.

"He told me in coming out that that play was going to score," Shanahan said. "It was called 18 Mike, and it was part of our openers. We didn't get to it till the second drive, but he goes, 'That Mike's going to go, it's going to score.' Now, we didn't get the exact look we wanted, so we were a little surprised on it. But Christian was right. He was a man of his word."

Maybe McCaffrey wasn't quite the soothsayer he seemed to be, however. When asked what made him think he would score on the play, he made it sound like he wasn't actually sure if it would happen.

"I don't know," McCaffrey said. "I was hoping I was right and it worked out. I like that play. Anytime we can get juice (fullback Kyle Juszczyk) in the dot and run downhill, I'm always a fan of that. I don't know if it's going to work or not. I like the play and I don't know, sometimes you can speak things into existence, I guess."

Important early moments

Saturday's game had crucial moments throughout, with three of them coming in the first half. The Packers moved the ball effectively throughout the first half and reached the red zone three times. But they were only able to come away with six points on those trips, as the 49ers held them to a turnover on downs on one drive and two field goals on the other two drives.

Linebacker Fred Warner didn't like how easily the Packers were moving the ball on the 49ers' defense but emphasized how important the early stops were in the outcome of the game.

"It was unacceptable the way that we were playing them to start the drives," Warner said. "I mean, we kept giving up explosive plays, and I've got to look at it to see exactly what was going on. But standing up in those red zone opportunities was crucial because imagine if we're giving up touchdowns instead of field goals, or we came up big with that missed field goal at the end. But that's something we got to clean up."

Maybe it's best not knowing

Defensive end Nick Bosa told reporters after the game that he planned on watching some game film later on that evening, then was asked if he might enjoy a beer while doing his game review.

Bosa responded by saying he's not interested in beer but might try "something else." He then left the podium with a grin.

We may never know what that something else was, but hopefully it made his postgame analysis more enjoyable.

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