Brock Purdy, 49ers find rhythm in second half as Seahawks falter

Brock Purdy, 49ers find rhythm in second half as Seahawks falter

7:33 PM ET

Brady Henderson

Nick Wagoner


Nick Wagoner

ESPN Staff Writer covered the Rams for nine years for Formerly covered University of Missouri football Member of Pro Football Writers of America

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — After a tight first half, the San Francisco 49ers scored 25 unanswered points to open the second half, pulling away to a 41-23 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday at Levi’s Stadium. The NFC wild-card win was the 11th straight for the 49ers, who will face an opponent to be determined in next weekend’s divisional round.

San Francisco 49ers

As the shortest starting quarterback to start a playoff game, 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy appeared to show some understandable nerves for the first time in his young career.

Purdy started Saturday’s game against Seattle with some missed shots and late reads on plays he’s made look routine over the past month. But once again, Purdy didn’t back down when faced with adversity. Editor’s Picks

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With Purdy committed and his players gaining plenty of yards after the catch, the Niners rolled into next week’s NFC divisional round. They will host the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys or Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi’s Stadium.

Whatever was affecting Purdy at the start disappeared with a quick stop in the locker room at halftime. He was nearly perfect over the final two quarters, going 9-for-11 for 185 yards with two touchdowns and a rushing score.

Purdy finished 18-of-30 for 332 yards with four total touchdowns. In the process, he became the third starting quarterback to throw three scores in a playoff game and threw for multiple touchdowns in a game for the seventh straight time, tying him with Justin Herbert for the longest streak by a starting quarterback since 1950.

The biggest question facing these Niners when the postseason began was how Purdy would react when the lights were turned on. As he has done with every test thrown so far, Purdy passed with flying colors.

Key play: The Seahawks pulled away with just six with 2 minutes, 31 seconds left in the third quarter and had the ball at the San Francisco 19-yard line, threatening to retake the lead.

But when Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith returned to throw, he got immediate pressure from Niners linebacker Charles Omenihu from the right side. As Smith stepped up, Omenihu chipped the ball away.

An alert Nick Bosa fumbled on the first drive of the game and the Niners immediately went for a touchdown that essentially put the game away.

Not only did the deal put points in San Francisco’s favor, but the 49ers also got no giveaways. The Niners are now 14-0 this season in games in which they commit one or zero turnovers.

NextGen Catchy Stats: For the first time this season, Niners running back Christian McCaffrey didn’t get a touchdown on the first drive of a game. But he made his first attempt count on the second possession, racing 68 yards down the left sideline for the third-longest run of his career.

On the run, McCaffrey hit a top speed of 20.8 mph, his fastest as a ball carrier since Week 8 of 2019.

— Wagon

Seattle Seahawks

So much for the Seahawks making Purdy buckle under the pressure of his first playoff start. So much for the inclement weather that could have been an equalizer for Seattle slowing down the 49ers and their running backs after the catch. And so much for that silly notion that it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season.

The 49ers made it look easy in the second half, as they turned a one-point halftime deficit into an emphatic victory in which they showed – again – the size of the gap that exists between them and the Seahawks . San Francisco has outscored Seattle 89-43 in three games this season.

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As ugly as it has been for the Seahawks over the past two quarters, perspective is important. They weren’t supposed to be at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday, facing the No. 1 seed. 2 in the NFC and even holding a 17-16 halftime lead against a team that had won 10 straight games. They weren’t even supposed to be in the playoffs in the first place after trading quarterback Russell Wilson, cutting linebacker Bobby Wagner and committing to playing a bunch of young players on both sides of the ball.

The arrow is pointing up for the Seahawks, even with Smith unsigned beyond this season and a defense that needs a lot of work up front. They have a promising new core and a load of project capital for 2023, including the fifth overall pick via the Wilson trade. But the 49ers just sent them into the offseason with another reminder that the Seahawks will have to take a big step forward before they can catch the new offense in the NFC West.

Worrying trend: Most of the Seahawks’ defensive issues this season came from outscoring the front seven, but their punting was poor at all three levels. That was a big reason they ranked 31st during the regular season in yards allowed after the catch. That made for a tough matchup against a 49ers offense that has led the NFL in YAC for the past six seasons, and it went about as badly for Seattle as you’d expect. Deebo Samuel’s game-tying 74-yard catch was the most glaring example of Seattle’s poor punting. The 49ers finished the game with 181 yards after the catch, the third most in a game this season.

QB Breakdown: Smith delivered the kind of up-and-down performance that characterized his play during the close of the regular season. He threw a beautiful deep ball to DK Metcalf in the second quarter for a 50-yard touchdown that gave Seattle the lead. He completed 71.4% of his passes, around his franchise-season record average. But he committed another costly turnover through a fumble that ruined a potential scoring drive in the third quarter. He threw an interception in the fourth quarter, but Seattle was in desperation mode by then. Smith completed 25-of-35 for 253 yards and two touchdown passes, both to Metcalf.

Key play: Late in the third quarter, the Seahawks were going for what could have been go-ahead goals or at least a field goal to cut the 49ers’ lead to three points. But their 12-play drive ended when Smith was stripped while trying to climb into the pocket on third down. The 49ers then took a 14-point lead on their next possession. Seattle’s pass defense had held up well against an excellent San Francisco front four until Smith’s departure. It was just the 49ers’ fifth pressure of the game on 22 Seattle downs (23%), according to ESPN Stats and Information research. They pressured the Seahawks on 38% of their losses in the regular season.

— Henderson

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