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5 takeaways from the 49ers' emphatic win: The McCaffrey trade saved the Niners' season

McCaffrey was superb once again on Sunday

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Decades from now, you might find yourself reminiscing with a fellow 49ers fan and reflecting on where you were when the Brock Purdy era began in San Francisco. Am I getting ahead of myself here? Probably, but who cares. The fact I can even float such hypotheticals while the 49ers are on their third starting quarterback of the season is a miracle in itself.

With that being said, here are my five takeaways from the 49ers dominating 35-7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, starting, of course, with...

Brock Purdy is the real deal

The odds were stacked against Purdy heading into this game. A full week for an opponent to prepare, an opponent that boasted a top-five pass defense and also happened to have the greatest quarterback of all time on the other side of the ball. A quarterback who had never lost against an opposing quarterback making their first NFL start as Purdy was set to do against Tampa Bay.

On the game's very first play, Purdy was leveled by Buccaneers safety Keanu Neal, who ripped into the backfield unblocked before laying Purdy out on a play that ultimately ended in an unnecessary roughness penalty on Neal.

We often talk in sports about the cliche metaphor of “getting punched in the mouth.” Well, in this game, that figuratively turned literal for Purdy immediately upon taking the field. How Purdy responded after getting smoked on his first snap of the game is a microcosm of the intangible “IT” factor that has been on display in the small sample size we have seen from the rookie quarterback.

If Purdy was rattled after that first play, he did one heck of a job of masking it. Instead of crumbling in the face of adversity, Purdy instead took the challenge head-on and sparked an offensive output that has been matched by only one other team that has faced this Buccaneers defense this season.

The 35 points the 49ers offense scored on Tampa Bay was just the second time the Buccaneers surrendered 30+ points this season. The only other team to accomplish that? The Kansas City Chiefs are led by MVP frontrunner Patrick Mahomes.

Purdy finished the day going 16-for-21 for 185 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a rushing touchdown to top it all off. The rookie quarterback, in his first start, looked like a polished veteran, regularly finding a way to extend plays and get the ball in the hands of his playmakers.

Perhaps no sequence better embodies Purdy’s resilience than the 32-yard touchdown thrown to Brandon Aiyuk just before halftime. Purdy stood tall in the pocket with a defensive tackle bearing down on him, knowing that he was in line to get smoked if he hung in and delivered the ball downfield to Aiyuk.

Did that faze Purdy? Not in the slightest. Speaking of being fazed, this play came immediately following one of the few questionable decisions of the day by Purdy, when he threw an egregious interception to Anthony Nelson that was nullified due to a defensive holding penalty.

It would have been understandable to see Purdy get a little gun-shy after that interception, particularly with the 49ers already in a position to get points just before the half. Instead, Purdy shook it off and launched a ball downfield at the cost of getting flattened by a 305-pound defensive tackle.

Purdy plays with a certain level of swagger and instincts that give this 49ers offense a chance to not miss a beat despite being on its third quarterback of the season, which in itself is astounding to say out loud in today’s NFL.

At the very least, Purdy has shown he has the ability to keep the 49ers competitive the rest of the way this season, something any of us would have had a hard time believing back in September when he was relegated to scout team duties as the third string quarterback.

With a chance to clinch the division on Thursday night in Seattle, Purdy is one more impressive performance away from skyrocketing the hype to uncontrollable levels where any hope at maintaining reasonable expectations can quickly be forgotten and discarded. How can you not love football?

The Christian McCaffrey trade saved the 49ers' season

I will never pass an opportunity to speak in hyperbole and ride the wave of dramatics, but this doesn’t even feel all that controversial despite the 49ers' loaded roster before McCaffrey’s arrival. McCaffrey was a luxury addition to an already loaded skill position group, but his arrival did something that we have yet to see during Kyle Shanahan’s well-documented career as a play caller in the NFL.

It gave Shanahan an indisputable top-five player at the running back position, something he has never had before despite the prolific offenses he has overseen during his time in the league. What separates McCaffrey from the other elite players at his position is the added value he brings as a receiving threat, and in the 49ers' win over the Buccaneers, we got to see the full arsenal on display.

McCaffrey finished the game with 119 rushing yards on 14 attempts, good for an average of 8.5 yards per carry. That included five runs of 10-plus yards, including a 38-yard scamper for a touchdown in the third quarter that pushed the lead to 35-0.

McCaffrey also added two catches for 34 yards, highlighted by a 27-yard touchdown reception that saw the 49ers' star running back masterfully keep his feet in bounds while regaining possession of the ball in the end zone. This was a marquis performance all around for McCaffrey, proving yet again why the significant draft capital the 49ers parted with might still have been an underpay for his services.

Dre Greenlaw is playing the best football of his career

A few days ago, I wrote about Greenlaw’s standout performance against the Dolphins last weekend, and the 49ers linebacker followed that up with arguably an even better showing against the Buccaneers.

Greenlaw led all players on the field with 15 tackles, with no other player on either team eclipsing ten tackles. Greenlaw was also stout in coverage, snagging an interception, recording multiple pass breakups, and holding Brady to a 5.7 passer rating when he was targeted in this game.

Perhaps the most impressive thing I saw from Greenlaw was the unrelenting motor he displayed late in the fourth quarter despite the 49ers being up 28 points. It clearly did not matter to Greenlaw that the 49ers all but had this thing wrapped up. He was still of the mindset that the Buccaneers' offense was going to have to fight for every single blade of grass until the clock hit zero.

That interminable enthusiasm Greenlaw brings every week is admirable, to say the least. It sets a tone that the other ten men on the field can’t help but follow, and what you get is a defense that continues to play for pride well beyond the outcome of a game is decided.

The defensive line continues to be the engine driving this team

There is so much praise to go around after a performance like this that it often ends up with a deserving party getting overshadowed. That seems to be what's happening with the 49ers' defensive line. We have become so numb to their consistent greatness that it has caused the vast majority to overlook just how pivotal they are to the 49ers' success week in and week out.

The defensive line had Brady and the Buccaneers' offense in a vice grip all afternoon, constantly forcing the ball out early by dismantling a Tampa Bay offensive line that has seen its share of struggles this season.

Don’t let the lack of sacks fool you, either. I counted at least four plays in this game where I was stunned that Brady was able to get the football out of his hands before being brought down.

The 49ers had the greatest quarterback of all time rattled early and often in this one, and their performance was a large reason the Buccaneers didn’t get on the scoreboard until midway through the third quarter.

As a side note, that is the eighth time this season that the 49ers have held an opponent scoreless for an entire half; just remarkable stuff from DeMeco Ryans’ unit that continues to raise the bar week after week.

This has been the finest work of Kyle Shanahan’s head coaching career

I have always been on record as a firm believer in Shanahan. I think he is an exceptional coach, and I think he’s proven that by having two deep playoff runs in the two seasons. He’s had a starting-level quarterback available for the majority of the 49ers games in that given season.

Having said that, despite the trip to the Super Bowl and the multiple conference championship appearances, this is by far the most impressed I have ever been with Shanahan during his time as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Think about how this season has gone. The 49ers lost their starting quarterback in week two. They lost the best offensive lineman in football in week three. They played the majority of the season without both their starters on the interior defensive line, and they lost a starting cornerback for the season in week 5.

Oh, then they lost their OTHER starting quarterback and somehow haven’t missed a beat on offense. In the face of all this adversity, the 49ers managed to rattle off six straight wins after a 3-4 start and now find themselves sitting in a position to wrap up the division title in week 15.

So much of the ability to overcome the adversity in their path this season can be traced back directly to the belief that the players in that locker room have in one another, a direct result of the culture that Shanahan has worked so hard to establish since taking over a team that was a laughing stock prior to his arrival in 2017.

I have no idea how this season will ultimately conclude. Still, the 49ers staring down double-digit wins and an NFC West title with a starting quarterback who started the season on the practice squad is a direct reflection of how special Shanahan and the staff he put together have been this season.