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Kawakami: The 49ers and Brock Purdy’s Playoff Comeback was the Much-Needed Victory

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. – You want to know who held Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers accountable Saturday, with the clock running out, the rain coming down, Deebo Samuel out injured and the Green Bay Packers just a play or two from a monumental playoff upset? You want to know who assigned responsibility and demanded that the 49ers fight through their game-long struggles? Who laid out all the potential consequences? That would be Purdy and every other member of the 49ers, who got themselves into this spot with one of their most baffling performances of this season.

They got the ball back with 6:13 left in the game after a Packers field-goal miss. They 49ers trailed by four points. They needed a touchdown. And they knew this was probably their last realistic chance to figure out how to avoid a horrendous loss in this divisional-round playoff game. So once the offense got into the huddle, Trent Williams gave a mini-speech. “I just told them, hey, man, with six minutes left, this might be the last time we get the ball. And if we don’t do something with it, this could be the last time we’re in this huddle together,” Williams recalled. “So whatever you’ve got, just bring it. Bring it the next play and then bring it the play after that and then let the rest take care of itself.”

NNNNNThey all felt it. The 49ers were at Levi’s Stadium, set up as NFC favorites to get to the Super Bowl, and they absolutely felt it. What happened next: Purdy broke out of his funk and started completing passes, Brandon Aiyuk made a huge diving catch on third down, Purdy scrambled inside the Packers’ 10-yard line and finally Christian McCaffrey bolted in for a 6-yard touchdown that put the 49ers ahead at last. Then Dre Greenlaw finished off the 49ers’ 24-21 victory by intercepting Jordan Love’s ill-advised across-his-body heave in the final minute.

But oh yeah, the 49ers felt it. And nobody felt it more than Purdy. Almost an hour after the game, you could tell they still felt it — all the adrenaline, all the disappointment over playing so haphazardly in such a big game, all the significance and all the relief. They live. And they know a little more about themselves now than they did after all their easy victories this season. (But so do their opponents.) Purdy also said that the Packers’ defense did a good job cutting off his deep options and forcing him to go to his checkdowns. And then Purdy spent most of the game rushing those checkdowns, often for incompletions. Also, while the Packers registered only one sack in the game, the pass rush seemed to bother Purdy — altering his throwing lanes and making him move his feet as he threw, which led to a couple of wild passes that the Packers easily could’ve intercepted but dropped. This might be a problematic issue for the 49ers in the next few weeks, since Purdy also looked quite uncomfortable against the Ravens on Christmas, and the Ravens very well could be the AFC’s representative in the Super Bowl. But Purdy sounded like he solved something in his head during that last drive; if they’re begging you to take the easy pass, and the easy pass can march you down the field, just take the easy pass. Don’t let earlier mistakes mess you up when it matters most. Another potential cause for the 49ers’ bumpy offensive play: the two-week layoff, counting Week 18 when Purdy and many other frontliners sat out the meaningless loss to the Rams and last weekend’s bye. “I don’t know, could’ve been that,” Shanahan said. “Could’ve been the rain, could be good defense. But those are stuff you’ve gotta talk about. We handled that as best we could.”

Purdy, who was 23-for-39 on the day for 252 yards and 1 TD, for a 86.7 passer rating, wasn’t the only struggling 49er in this game, of course. The defense suffered through a handful of slips and miscues against Love and his receivers and gave up a huge 53-yard run to Aaron Jones. The 49ers’ special teams got hit, too — the coverage unit gave up a 73-yard kickoff return to Keisean Nixon and Jake Moody had a 48-yard field-goal attempt deflected at the line. But the defense turned in Greenlaw’s game-sealing interception, plus another.

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