The 49ers are the 2022 NFC West champions after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 21-13 on Thursday Night Football. Despite multiple unacceptable early-season losses and season-ending injuries to the team’s top two quarterbacks on the depth chart, the Niners are the first team in the NFL to clinch their division this season.
Here are position-by-position grades for the 49ers win:
It’s been just three games, and Brock Purdy is already at least the second-best quarterback the 49ers have had in the Kyle Shanahan era (Trey Lance could become a better option at some point, but Purdy is better based on what we’ve seen so far). Purdy remained calm and composed after a short week while dealing with an oblique injury. His accuracy on short passes remained excellent while Shanahan gave him enough open receivers downfield to turn into big plays.
Purdy’s limited arm strength cost the Niners missed intermediate opportunities. However, Kyle Shanahan was in his play-calling bag enough to give Purdy plenty of open receivers to take advantage of.
Purdy did make his worst throw as a pro, tossing what should have been an easy interception that was dropped by Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs, which brought his grade out of the B range. Still, that’s three straight solid performances from a rookie seventh-round pick.
Running backs: A-
Shanahan used Christian McCaffrey a lot on Thursday, giving the veteran back 26 carries for 108 yards. He was also a consistent receiving option for Purdy, catching 6 passes on 8 targets for 30 receiving yards. It sure seems like Shanahan should incorporate Jordan Mason into the rushing attack more consistently, particularly on runs up the middle, and he ripped off a 55-yard run in the final minutes to seal the game.
Tight ends: A+
Fans have been waiting for a big George Kittle game, and he delivered on Thursday. Purdy connected with Kittle for 93 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. Even Tyler Kroft hauled in a 28-yard catch.
Wide receivers: D+
The 49ers' receiving corp had arguably its worst performance of the season. Brandon Aiyuk was called for a costly blocking penalty in the third quarter and dropped a good throw from Purdy that would have converted a third down in the fourth quarter. Aiyuk finished the day with just 19 receiving yards on two receptions.
Jauan Jennings and Ray-Ray McCloud each made some big third-down plays but ultimately combined for just 47 receiving yards (4 receptions) on eight targets.
Offensive line: B
The 49ers offensive line had a solid but unexceptional day. While the rushing attack was far from dominant, the Niners' o-line generated some massive holes. Purdy’s athleticism and movement in the pocket makes him easier to protect than Garoppolo, but Purdy had fairly clean pockets throughout the game as well.
Defensive line: A+
Normally I’m using this section to heap praise onto Nick Bosa, and he was very good on Thursday, although he did get flagged for a controversial (and costly) roughing the passer call. But Thursday’s game was about Arik Armstead. He only recorded one tackle and quarterback hit, but Armstead was demolishing the Seahawks' interior offensive line all game on both rushing and passing plays. Armstead set the stage for the Niners' line to amass 3 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and 9 quarterback hits.
I’m not there yet, but we are approaching a point where we’ll have to discuss Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw in the same conversation as Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. Warner and Greenlaw each amassed 8 tackles on Thursday, while Greenlaw added a pair of passes defended and a game-changing forced fumble. Azeez Al-Shaair also added 3 tackles, including 1 for loss.
Greenlaw and Talanoa Hufanga mixed up the 49ers' coverages on one of the Seahawks’ touchdowns. It might have been on Hufanga, but given each player’s reactions to the play, it seems like it was Greenlaw’s mistake.
Mooney Ward may turn out to be the best free-agent signing of Shanahan’s 49ers tenure. Ward shadowed D.K. Metcalf for much of the game and was the primary reason Metcalf did not record a reception that gained 15 yards or more.
Deommodore Lenoir racked up a game-high ten tackles alongside a pass defended. He also would have had a game-clinching pick-six if Bosa had not been called for roughing the passer.
The 49ers' front seven has been so dominant that there haven’t been many opportunities for the team’s safeties over the past few weeks. With that said, DeMeco Ryans drew up an excellent blitz that got Hufanga a sack. Otherwise, Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson were mostly peripheral to players like Armstead, Greenlaw, Warner, and Ward, who carried the group.
Special teams: B
Robbie Gould missed a 43-yard field goal that would have haunted the Niners if they had lost, but Mitch Wishnowsky had a good overall punting day, and Ray-Ray McCloud had one of his most consistent performances returning kicks and punts.