Wow! What a way to bring in the new year as the 49ers held on to escape Las Vegas with a win in a 37-34 overtime thriller. This game had a little bit of everything and was an absolute roller coaster down the stretch. Here are my five takeaways from this game
Just Win, Baby!
The famous slogan of legendary Raiders owner Al Davis rang true for the 49ers on Sunday afternoon, as it was by far not their most aesthetically pleasing performance by any means but ultimately counts the same in the win column as any of the other 11 they’ve notched this season.
And that is my primary takeaway from this matchup between two proud and storied franchises. This is not college football. There are no style points. There is no committee to impress. There are simply wins, and there are losses, and the 49ers scratched and clawed their way to pull out a victory in a game where it felt like nothing was going their way.
Don’t let the 9.5-point spread fool you or the fact that this was the first career start for Jarrett Stidham. Winning in the NFL is extremely hard, and even the best teams can be taken to the wire by a dealer's choice of the bottom-feeding teams in the league. Look no further than the Chiefs every week.
Las Vegas presented a potent offense with a strong urge to fight for whatever hope that remained to find a path for a Raider's playoff berth and fight like hell they did. They came out and punched the 49ers in the mouth with a touchdown on the opening drive and had a double-digit second-half lead which seemed improbable heading into this game.
But ultimately, it was all for not, as the moral victories the Raiders might have gained pale in comparison to the literal victory the 49ers snatched from the jaws of defeat in this one to win their ninth consecutive game dating back to week eight.
This was exactly the kind of game the 49ers needed, particularly with the somewhat unknown commodity they have in Brock Purdy. The calls for a test of adversity were answered and then some, with the 49ers proving they have what it takes to win a tough one when the well-oiled machine isn’t running at maximum efficiency, precisely the kind of challenge that sparks belief as you prepare for an unprecedented playoff run.
Brock Purdy’s poise under pressure
I was ready to buy in on Purdy after the Miami game, but this one checked off any boxes that might have been remaining. Purdy hadn’t been subjected to a shootout where the 49ers' defense had a problem slowing down their opponent, but in his first opportunity to do so, he shined when the lights were brightest.
With the 49ers trailing 24-14 in the third quarter, Purdy appeared unbothered as he displayed the tremendous poise that has defined the storybook run he and the 49ers currently find themselves on.
Once the 49ers faced a double-digit deficit, here were Purdy’s numbers for the remainder of the game:
10.2 yards per attempt
Let’s take a closer look at how Purdy fared once the score was tied at 27 with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter:
11.8 yards per attempt
All six of Purdy’s completions during that span went for a first down, and he essentially led two game-winning drives if not for the rare clutch time miss by Robbie Gould. This was far from Purdy’s cleanest effort thus far, but his ability to remain un-rattled and persevere in the face of adversity might have been the best thing to come out of this game for the 49ers.
Christian McCaffrey is the 49ers' greatest acquisition since?
Seriously, I’m stumped. Who was the last 49ers player to have this much of an immediate impact on a team that was ready to win but needed one final piece to get over the hump? Deion Sanders back in 1994? Regardless, McCaffrey has completely reinvigorated an already explosive offense, raising the ceiling to heights that should not be possible given the turnover the 49ers have experienced at the quarterback position.
McCaffrey finished this game with 19 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown while adding six receptions for 72 yards in the air. This was the kind of game where you are left wondering how the 49ers parted with nearly their entire 2023 draft haul yet still underpaid for what we are seeing is a transcendent, dare I say, generational talent.
Since McCaffrey has had a full week of practice with the team, the 49ers are 9-0 and have scored 30 or more points in six of those nine games. They had scored more than 30 just once in the seven games before McCaffrey’s arrival. Take a look at McCaffrey’s numbers during his stint with the 49ers thus far:
Christian McCaffrey in 10 games with the 49ers:
Rushing attempts - 149
Rushing yards - 701
Rushing touchdowns - 6
Yards per carry - 4.7
Receptions - 49
Receiving yards - 430
Receiving touchdowns - 3
Scrimmage yards per game - 113.1
Nick Bosa solidified his defensive player of the year award
Barring a historical output from Micah Parsons in week 18, this award is all but Bosas at this point. While Bosa did not have a sack in this game, only the third time that has occurred all season, his presence was felt regularly when the chips were down, and his team needed him the most.
That included the pressure in overtime that led to the Tashaun Gipson interception, which effectively iced the game in the 49ers' favor. Bosa beat Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller with a vicious bull rush that drove Miller into the lap of Stidham, leading to a floating wobbler that was snatched out of the air by Gipson for the penultimate play in this instant classic (I don’t count the kneel down to position the game-winning field goal, sue me.)
Bosa now leads the NFL in pressures, sacks, and QB hits and is now firmly in the driver's seat to secure this prestigious award just one year after being an inexplicable all-star game snub.
Great players have bad games, too sometimes
Finally, I wanted to end this with something simple but always important to remember when watching a team as talented as the 49ers. A 17-game schedule is a grueling marathon; even the best players in this league will have an off day from time to time.
For example, Fred Warner is one of the most gifted linebackers I have ever had the pleasure of watching play the game of football. Warner had a couple of extremely uncharacteristic mistakes, including two drive-extending penalties that ultimately resulted in touchdowns for the Raiders offense.
It was an off day at the office, we all have them, and NFL players are no different. How about Robbie Gould? The kicker, who has ice water in his veins and has never missed a kick in the playoffs when the stakes are the highest, missed a 41-yard game-winning attempt wide right at the end of regulation.
No matter how dependable and reliable a player might be, everyone has those days where things just don’t seem to go their way. The important thing to take away here is that the 49ers collectively found a way to pick each other up and win a road game while trailing by double digits, which is never an easy task at this level of football.
Happy New Year!
I cheated and added a sixth takeaway because I wanted to wish all the readers here at Niners Nation a happy new year! I hope everyone gets the chance to ring in the new year with a memorable playoff run by our beloved 49ers, preferably with a little less suspense than what we all experienced watching that riveting matchup in the desert on New Year's Day.
Nothing but blessings to you and yours, Go, Niners!