SANTA CLARA, Calif. — After a tight first half, the San Francisco 49ers scored 25 unanswered points to start the second half and beat the Seattle Seahawks 41-23 on Saturday at Levi’s Stadium. The NFC wild-card win was the 11th in a row for the 49ers, who will face a to-be-determined opponent in the divisional round next weekend.
San Francisco 49ers
49ers quarterback to start a playoff game, lowest-drafted rookie quarterback Brock Birdie For the first time in his young career he appeared to show some understandable nerves.
Purdy played into Saturday’s wild-card matchup against Seattle with some missed throws and late plays that he’s made over the past month. But once again, Purdy didn’t flinch in the face of adversity.
As Purdy settled in and his players gained plenty of yards after the catch, the Niners entered the NFC divisional round the following week. They will host the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys or Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi’s Stadium.
Everything that initially affected Birdie disappeared after a quick stop in the locker room. He was nearly perfect over the final two quarters, going 9-for-11 for 185 yards with two passing touchdowns and a rushing score.
Purdy finished 18-for-30 for 332 yards with four total touchdowns. In the process, he became the third rookie quarterback to throw for three scores in a playoff game and tied for the seventh consecutive time with multiple touchdowns in a game. Justin Herbert For the longest streak by a freshman quarterback since 1950.
The biggest question facing these Niners once the postseason begins is how Purdy will fare when the lights are on. Just as he’s aced every test he’s ever been thrown, Birdy excelled.
Main play: With 2 minutes, 31 seconds left in the third quarter, the Seahawks trailed by six and took the ball at San Francisco’s 19-yard line, threatening to regain the lead.
A warning Nick Bosa fumbled for the first takeaway of the game, and the Niners promptly drove for a touchdown that essentially put the game away.
Not only did the takeaway swing the points in San Francisco’s favor, but the 49ers had no prizes. The Niners are now 14-0 this season in which they commit one or zero turnovers.
Eye-popping NextGen Stats: For the first time this season, the Niners are falling behind Christian McCaffrey Not touched on the first drive of the game. But he tallied his first attempt on the second possession, racing 68 yards down the left sideline for the third-longest rush of his career.
On the run, McCaffrey hit 20.8 mph, his fastest as a ball carrier since Week 8 of 2019.
The Seahawks are building on Birdie under the pressure of his first playoff start. The 49ers and their run-after-catch playmakers could have been tied for Seattle due to extremely bad weather. And the silly notion that it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season.
The 49ers made it look easy in the second half, as they turned a one-point halftime deficit into a victory that showed — yet again — the size of the gap between them and the Seahawks. San Francisco has outscored Seattle 89-43 in three games this season.
As ugly as the final two quarters were for the Seahawks, perspective is key. They don’t have to be at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday, the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Hanging tough with the No. 2 seed, they also held a 17-16 halftime lead over a team that had won 10 straight games. They shouldn’t even be in the playoffs in the first place after the quarterback trade Russell WilsonCutting linebacker Bobby Wagner And commits to playing young players on both sides of the ball.
Even with Smith unsigned beyond this season and a defense that needs a lot of work up front, the arrow points toward the Seahawks. They acquired a promising young center and a boatload of 2023 draft capital, including the fifth overall pick via the Wilson trade. But the 49ers sent them into the offseason with another reminder that the Seahawks need to take a big step forward before they can recapture the new bully in the NFC West block.
Problematic trend: Most of the Seahawks’ defensive problems this season stem from their overhyped front seven, but their tackling has been poor at all three positions. That’s a big reason why they ranked 31st in the regular season in yards allowed after one reception. It made for a tough matchup against a 49ers offense that has led the NFL in YAC the last six seasons, and as you might expect, it went badly for Seattle. Thibo SamuelThe 74-yard, game-sealing touchdown catch was the most obvious example of Seattle’s poor tackling. The 49ers finished the game with 181 yards after the catch, their third most in a game this season.
QB Breakdown: Smith had the kind of up-and-down performance that characterized his game in the final stretch of the regular season. He threw a deep ball TK Metcalf A 50-yard touchdown in the second quarter gave Seattle the lead. He completed 71.4% of his passes, right around his franchise-record season average. But he made another costly return with a lost fumble that killed a third-quarter scoring drive. He threw an interception in the fourth quarter, but Seattle was desperate by then. Smith finished 25-of-35 for 253 yards and two touchdown passes, both to Metcalf.
Main play: Late in the third quarter, the Seahawks could have had a go-ahead touchdown or at least a field goal to cut the 49ers’ lead to three points. But their 12-play streak ended when Smith was picked off 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 held up well against an excellent San Francisco front four until Smith’s strip-sack. It was the 49ers’ fifth pressure of the game on 22 Seattle dropbacks (23%), according to ESPN Stats and Information Research. They pressured the Seahawks on a 38% dropback during the regular season.