AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn
The San Francisco 49ers didn’t play the cleanest of games against the New York Giants on Thursday night and still came away with a 30-12 victory. Brock Purdy made some questionable decisions early, penalties were a constant problem, and San Francisco allowed the Saquon Barkley-less Giants to hang on to a 10-point fourth-quarter surge.
Thanks to star skill players Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, the 49ers proved too much for the outmatched and injury-hampered Giants.
The stat sheet would suggest that San Francisco dominated from start to finish. New York managed just 150 yards of offense, and the 49ers held the ball for more than 39 minutes of game time.
But it didn’t go smoothly for the first two and a half quarters.
Purdy threw a lot of balls that could have been intercepted in the first half. One of them is the completion that is not finished in the hands of its intended target.
Purdy threw a first-half touchdown to rookie Ronnie Bell, but his stat line at intermission—14-of-23 for 147 yards—was better than good. However, he settled down during the second half by relying on Samuel and Kittle (150 combined receiving yards, 1 TD after halftime), which is completely logical.
Kittle remains one of the biggest mismatches at his position in the NFL. He can out-physical most defensive backs and outrun most linebackers.
Samuel is a yard-after-catch machine who turns short- and medium-range passes into big gains more often than not.
And Samuel is perfectly capable of winning deep, as he did on Purdy’s second touchdown pass of the night.
San Francisco also got a solid performance from McCaffrey, a dark-horse MVP candidate who can play any role asked of him in Kyle Shanahan’s multifaceted offense.
McCaffrey split time with backup Elijah Mitchell (14 total touches) but still finished with 85 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown, five receptions and 34 receiving yards.
Add in 1,000-yard receiver Brandon Aiyuk—who missed Thursday’s game with a shoulder injury—and Mitchell, Bell, Jauan Jennings and Kyle Juszczyk, and it’s clear San Francisco has the NFL’s top skill group .
On Thursday, that was enough for San Francisco to beat the Giants despite six penalties, just one forced turnover and three red-zone trips that resulted in field goals. Purdy didn’t play his best, and yet he had the first 300-yard regular-season game of his career (310 yards, 2 TDs), thanks in part to the ability of the YAC skill group.
Going forward, this means Shanahan is just scratching the surface of what he can do offensively and that the 49ers can win with Purdy playing like the young game-manager he sometimes reminds us he is.
“Other quarterbacks around the league are very jealous of Brock Purdy because he’s got this innovative offense,” Hall of Famer Steve Young told KNBR’s Tolbert and Copes (h/t David Bonilla on the 49ers Webzone). “He’s got these guys throwing the ball, and he’s got Trent Williams to protect him, you know what I mean? That doesn’t happen in the league. You don’t get this kind of support.”
This means that combined with Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, Fred Warner and one of the toughest defenses in the NFL, San Francisco has a roster that can compete with anyone.
Defenses can win championships, but teams without offense can’t reach championship games in today’s NFL.
The 49ers can win in a variety of ways, and while they made it look relatively easy in the end against New York, they will be tested soon. The rudderless Arizona Cardinals are next, but they will play the Dallas Cowboys—perhaps the only other team that can currently claim to be the best in the NFL.
Against a legitimate contender like Dallas, the 49ers may not be able to fully lean on their defense. They might get a shaky four-quarter performance from Purdy that they’ve never seen.
However, San Francisco has a chance to win any contest this season because it has so many good skill position players to field—and Shanahan knows how to get the best out of each. one of them.
Defenses that get into the run or carry heavy pressure can get burned with quick passes in intermediate and deep passing areas, as Purdy demonstrated by beating the blitz to deliver the th four quarter touchdown strike to Samuel.
Teams that defend the back end will get chewed up by McCaffrey and the running game.
If the 49ers are desperate for a big play, Shanahan will likely find the mismatch by using Samuel as a runner, McCaffrey as a receiver, Juszczyk as a tight end or by taking Kittle one-on-one coverage.
As Young said, it’s a great luxury for Purdy to have, and it makes a 49ers team that is creating a defensive identity in 2022 dangerous on the other side of the ball. San Francisco won’t put up 441 yards or 30 points every game, but it will get the yards and points it needs in the games that matter most.
As long as this group stays healthy—admittedly a big “if” with major injuries dominating the early 2023 headlines—the 49ers have every chance to return to the NFC title and make a push for the franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy.