Thursday night football is always a slopfest. But when you have a lineup of players who are built for contact and grind-it-out games, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The 49ers flexed their strength on either side of the ball on Thursday en route to a 30-12 win in their home opener. It was even more dominant that that. San Francisco out-gained New York 441 to 150 in total yards.
Purdy deals with constant pressure, misses Aiyuk
To say Brock Purdy was under fire would be a gross understatement.
Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale threw the phone book at Purdy and the 49ers’ offensive line. Without Brandon Aiyuk, it stretched San Francisco thin, and was generally successful.
The approach seemed to get under the offensive line’s skin, with a few scuffles in the trenches, including a Trent Williams punch at the end of the first half.
It made things uneasy from the jump.
The first drive for Purdy and the offense was a mess that ended with a field goal. It felt like a continuation of the Rams game — when Purdy had three, high-profile deep misses and threw another ball well behind Deebo Samuel on a slant.
On that first drive, two of Purdy’s passes required pass breakups by his own receivers. Both George Kittle and Samuel had to play defense to avoid interceptions, though the latter was a shot to the end zone with pressure in his face. He also threw behind Jauan Jennings on a third-down completion and missed Samuel two other times.
He was 3-for-8 on that first drive, and with the Giants consistently getting home, he looked unsettled.
After that, he responded. He threw a pure dime down the left sideline to George Kittle for a 15-yard gain. While the 49ers were forced into a punt on that drive, their next two drives would finish in the end zone.
A Deebo Samuel screen turned a potential stalled third drive into a 30-yard gain. A 17-yard screen to Christian McCaffrey had the same effect on another third down. But when Purdy was called upon, with pressure in his face, he delivered another dime, for a toe-tap, first career touchdown to Ronnie Bell.
He had a few other excellent throws, including a would-be touchdown that Christian McCaffrey couldn’t come down with. Purdy stepped up in the pocket, avoided pressure and threw a gorgeous back-shoulder ball that was right on the money.
And his best throw of the day? That all but sealed the game. It was a 27-yard, back shoulder touchdown to Samuel. With three Giants linemen closing in on him, Purdy threw an absolute dot to Samuel, who obliged, to cap off a vintage night.
He had some outstanding moments, along with the ugly ones. He finished with a stat line of 25-for-37 for 310 and two TDs.
Purdy largely had to lean on screens, and there were at least three balls that could have been intercepted. That said, he still has not thrown a pick on the year and once again, did enough to keep things moving without his most reliable, dynamic receiver available against an impressive defense.
This wasn’t a game when he had to sling it around, but he came through in a few key spots. It’s not a game this offense will remember too fondly, and one which Aiyuk’s agent will surely use in upcoming contract negotiations.
Thursday night grind, which suits Deebo Samuel just fine
You’ll get your Thursday night trash and you’ll like it.
The NFL clearly knows its product is good enough that even the scraps at the end of the back of a chafing dish will be scooped up by a national audience.
Thursday football is objectively a worse product than its Sunday counterpart and should probably be relegated to the season opener and Thanksgiving only. But it’s a massive moneymaking opportunity, and much like the 17th game of the season, is antithetical towards any effort to preserve player health.
Were this a Sunday, Aiyuk probably plays, and the quality is better.
Instead, we got a weird game, that at least highlighted what both defenses could do. It also showed that even without Aiyuk, the 49ers still have their YAC bros.
There were massive moments from Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, all of whom shrugged off multiple tackles throughout the course of the game. They turned short gains into great ones. When you have an array of rugged, tackle-breaking skill-position players, that tends to bode well on a short week.
Samuel, especially, was magnificent. He broke four tackles on a 40-yard gain, and dragged another pile with him on a quick slant at the start of the fourth quarter for 18 yards. He had gains of 14, 30, 40, 18 and 27 and finished with 131 yards and a touchdown on seven touches.
He caught the back-shoulder touchdown after appearing to get the wind knocked out of him. It was a hero’s return and finish to a classic Samuel performance.
Wilks’ defense offers a much better showing
Speaking of that defense, there was quite a bit more to like about what the 49ers did on Thursday than Sunday.
Now, it was Daniel Jones, not Matthew Stafford. But the creativity in coverage was apparent, as was the decision to blitz a bit more aggressively, as the Giants were doing the same to the 49ers’ offense.
Wilks’ decision to use five down linemen this season — the best group being Bosa-Armstead-Hargrave-Kinlaw-Jackson — has paid massive dividends. It all but assures one-on-one matchups all along the line. Hargrave seems to win almost all of those reps, and often decisively against the center.
He got the first sack of the night, but it would not be the last.
Nick Bosa was yearning for a sack coming into Thursday night. He got off the schneid relatively quickly and nearly had a safety with a sack of Daniel Jones at the 1-yard line. He had another sack on a key two-point conversion attempt later along with Arik Armstead that doesn’t count on the stat sheet.
That group was on Jones consistently, and the coverage benefitted. Jones and his offensive line were struggling to come up with much, and when Jones tried to run, it seemed like Dre Greenlaw was always waiting.
This was a far more encouraging performance from Wilks’ group, that of course included a late-game interception, the third in as many games.
McCaffrey and Mitchell share improves
Elijah Mitchell had zero snaps against Los Angeles. Christian McCaffrey played all 58 snaps.
Kyle Shanahan was clear after the game that it’s not a sustainable strategy. He took ownership for the fact that Mitchell didn’t get on the field and was clear that couldn’t happen.
With a short week, the 49ers adjusted, dosing Mitchell earlier and much more often. He got 11 touches for 42 yards.
That’s still to say, there was a heavy dose of McCaffrey, and that won’t change. He had another sideline stiff arm like he had against Ahkello Witherspoon last week, and racked up 111 yards and a touchdown on 23 touches.
McCaffrey now has 12-straight games with a touchdown dating back to Week 13 of last season against the Dolphins. That’s tied with Jerry Rice for the franchise record. he is extraordinarily good at the sport of football.