17/04/2024

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What we learned as Purdy, Aiyuk dominate in 49ers’ win vs. Bucs

What we learned as Purdy, Aiyuk dominate in 49ers’ win vs. Bucs

What we learned as Purdy, Aiyuk dominate in 49ers’ win vs. Bucs originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SANTA CLARA — The 49ers have their biggest three-game stretch of the season coming up, but before they take on Seattle, Philadelphia and Seattle (again), San Francisco had to take care of business against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

Quarterback Brock Purdy produced one of his best games, and it came against the team he faced in his first NFL start last December.

The 49ers entered the fourth quarter with a 20-point lead and held on for a 27-14 victory over Baker Mayfield and the Buccaneers, as San Francisco improved to 7-3 with its second consecutive victory following three straight losses.

Now, the 49ers enter the crucial part of their schedule which could determine their NFC playoff fate or seeding.

Here are three takeaways from Sunday’s game:

The lie about Purdy’s arm

For a guy who supposedly has a weak arm, Purdy sure can throw the ball down the field. He had a big day on Sunday against a strong Buccaneers defense, completing 21 of 25 passes for 333 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 158.3, which is the highest attainable rating possible.

Purdy again showed his ability to connect deep down the field on Sunday when he delivered a perfectly thrown pass that traveled 45 yards in the air and hit wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk in stride past Buccaneers cornerback Jamel Dean.

Aiyuk cradled the pass as Dean fell to the ground. He took it the rest of the way for a 76-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 20-7 lead early in the third quarter. Aiyuk finished the day with five catches for 156 yards.

Purdy entered Week 11 as the best quarterback in the NFL at connecting on passes down the field of 20 yards or more, as he was 20 of 30 for 568 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions on deep passes, per PFF.

His completion percentage of 66.7 percent was 6 points better than Houston Texans rookie C.J. Stroud’s No. 2 mark. And for comparison purposes, Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes entered the week connecting on just 12 of 36 pass attempts of 20 yards or more.

Purdy’s first start came last season against Tampa Bay. On Sunday, he made his 18th career start (including three in the postseason).

It is certainly at the point where we can take the pre-draft scouting report on Purdy — and any mention of his “lack of arm strength” — and toss it in the incinerator.

Hufanga injury cast cloud over day

Safety Talanoa Hufanga sustained a non-contact injury to his right knee in the third quarter and was carted from the sideline to the locker room.

The 49ers announced he was ruled out from returning to the game — always an ominous sign, and they can only hope the MRI examination provides some uplifting news for the third-year pro.

Hufanga fell awkwardly to the ground on a play in which Buccaneers wide receiver Rachaad White caught a short pass, made a move to evade the safety and gained 11 yards in the third quarter.

Rookie Ji’Ayir Brown, a 2023 third-round draft pick from Penn State, replaced Hufanga in the defensive backfield to finish the game. And, boy, did he ever finish the game.

Brown broke up a fourth-down pass in the end zone against Mike Evans late in the fourth quarter to end the Bucs’ bid to cut it to a one-score game. Then, Brown came back with an interception in the end zone to end the Buccaneers’ final chance. Nick Bosa got pressure on Mayfield and Dre Greenlaw tipped the pass.

Although not nearly as flashy as their Week 10 performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the 49ers’ defense was effective. Mayfield put up some nice numbers, but they stiffened while also dropping four potential interception opportunities.

The 49ers generally fashioned a bend-but-don’t-break approach.

For the second game in a row, the 49ers moved cornerback Deommodore Lenoir inside to play nickel back on passing situations, with Ambry Thomas entering the game to take Lenoir’s spot on the outside.

McCaffrey, Mitchell combination

It certainly is not going to turn into a backs-by-committee approach, but the 49ers made an effort Sunday to get Elijah Mitchell into the mix in the first half.

Christian McCaffrey had a solid day while playing most of the game, carrying the ball 21 times for 78 yards, and catching five passes for 25 yards and a touchdown.

But McCaffrey is not the only back on the roster.

Remember, Mitchell has been ultra-productive for the 49ers when he has been on the field. His problem, however, is that he has been unable to remain healthy for extended periods of time.

On the 49ers’ third drive of the game, Mitchell started out and got three consecutive carries. He ended up with four carries for 24 yards on a drive in which San Francisco moved the ball 46 yards on nine plays.

Jake Moody made a 37-yard field goal to give the 49ers’ a 10-0 lead in the second quarter.

McCaffrey was given a break after he scored a touchdown for the 18th time in his past 19 games with the 49ers.

The 49ers capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive with Purdy’s 4-yard touchdown pass to McCaffrey midway through the first quarter.