The first five weeks of the season have been a battle against the demons of the NFC championship game and the noise of the offseason.
It meant so much for this team to go 5-0, to prove to themselves that they are whole, they’re not slow starters, their quarterback is healthy and roaring, the weapons can overwhelm the way they’re supposed to on paper, and that the defense can hold its own. The Sunday Night victory over Dallas was a release of tension in Brock’s elbow that released tension for the whole franchise.
The Browns weren’t just hungrier and more desperate... they had more tension, with more to prove than the 49ers. Their anxiety lead them to sharpen their senses, to approach that game methodically — leaving nothing to chance and everything to game planning and strategy.
The optimistic side can look at that and say hey - we saw Brock lead a good drive in the end when it mattered most. We now know he has that Klay-like amnesiac quality to approach that last drive like it’s 0-0. He has the ability to will his body to forget all of its failings and misgivings in order to be in the moment. To find the flow state.
According to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the scientist that discovered this concept, the flow state needs this Goldilocks zone of challenge to exist - too easy, and it’s too boring and tedious to get into the flow state (it’s like busy work), but too hard, and it’s just too discouraging/outside your abilities to get into that zone without getting in your own head.
The Vikings offer a perfect opponent for a team that badly needs to find its flow state. The Cowboys were too easy, and the Browns were too hard. It’s safe to say that the Browns defensive unit has been the best defense Brock has faced in a game he’s started/finished, over his 12 or so games. Specifically, the Browns defense had too much of a challenge for most of the game, and Brock Purdy was finally knocked out of his flow state.
Up until the last drive, he was playing uncharacteristically.
On that last drive, though, Brock showed he can summon the flow state not just despite but because of the gravity of the moment. Clutchness is as simple as that. Can you get in the right headspace to reach your flow state as a response to the stress of high-stakes moments? The flow state means you’re at your peak performance, and you need your peak performance in the moments that matter most in the game. Brock maintaining his head in such a moment, as a quarterback that wins with his mind, is a meaningful data point for who he is.
The Vikings are a perfect level of challenging for him to find his flow state again. They blitz more than anybody in the league, which gives Brock the chance to process and make decisions that punish their aggressiveness (much like he did against New York).
Danielle Hunter is a headache and a half, but you can bet on Brock being heady enough to punish a linebacker being one step out of place. George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk are good enough players to give Brock a shot, even without a healthy CMC, Trent, or Deebo. It’ll be a challenge, but there’s still enough talent to take out any excuses.
The defense will need to find its flow state even moreso than the offense. The pass rush is supposed to improve, with Randy Gregory getting up to speed and opening up the game for Nick Bosa. The Jefferson-less Vikings offense has a decent o-line and a veteran QB - just good enough to require their best shot but not so good that we’d think their best shot won’t work. If the defense play up to their standard, they should win this game.
That standard feels tenuous, which causes tension. By nature of being such a talented team, there’s a certain psychic hill it constantly needs to climb. Not playing to one’s potential will always create a feeling of emptiness, but the more talented you are, the more emptiness you’ll feel when you fall short of your potential.
Because the scary thing is that if every time you don’t bounce back, you start telling a story that maybe you weren’t so talented to begin with.
In the spirit of Halloween, the spookiness is a great thing. The tension from the summer is starting to creep back in, and I, as a Niners fan, welcome it. With every injury to the A-list, the team has to realize that it can’t rest on the laurels of raining hellfire with its superior talent.
It feels like a top-notch PAC/Big 10 (or 12 or 39 or whatever the hell it is) team that’s been blowing out the UC Davis’s of the world and then faces its first legit SEC team. The 49ers finally faced a unit that’s as talented and as well-coached as its offense, and that’s the nature of the NFL. The contenders always got something for you. The Eagles certainly will have that for us, with their fearsome pass rush on one side and their high-powered offense on the other side.
The Browns weren’t a game that we necessarily had to win. It’s not ideal for our seeding chase, but with a 5-0 record, on the road, in the rain, against an elite defense, lost on the last second - there’s worse ways to lose if such a concept exists.
This Vikings game feels like a game we have to win, if such a concept exists in Week 7 for a 5-1 team. It’ll matter hugely to the momentum of the team. Win this game, and you can prove to yourself that no challenge can fully knock you out of your flow state. Lose this game, even in a moral victory the way Week Six was, and it’s time to ask some serious questions.
Because if your habits and processes aren’t good enough to beat a decent-but-not-elite team - if your receivers aren’t good enough to separate against the Vikings DBs, your pass rush can’t get any push against the Vikings o-line, and your ground game isn’t good enough to run on a non-titans level run D… how can you beat the Eagles?
The Chiefs? 5-2 doesn’t doom the team in a mathematical sense, but the vibe would take a serious hit that’ll need big wins over Cincy, XYZ or the bye week will be tense. 6-1 and you can continue building, continue finding the flow state, continue developing the younger players for the postseason, continue the marathon at a steady pace. This game matters greatly to the pace over the course of the season.
I find it symbolic that Klay Thompson will be in the booth on the ESPN Manning cast. I find it so fascinating to see the 49ers and Warriors go out of their way to publicly embrace each other. John, Kyle, Steve, and Bob take time out of their busy days to talk to Tim Kawakami about how much they all love each other.
The Niners players go to all those games at Chase, and now the Warriors are embracing the hype around this season. Klay, who’s fried like Nick Bosa and goofy like George Kittle, knows all about the ebbs and flows of tension that can benefit and harm a team. Four times in his career, he’s seen how tension can power greatness and induce enough flow to win it all.
The day after Monday Night Football, he’ll face off against Kevin Durant to kick off the campaign for the fifth time, and now the tension from the Warriors losing in the second round last year is powering them anew.
I physically find it impossible to write an article on Niners Nation without evoking a 49ers-Warriors analogy, so I’ll close by pointing out that Brock is this team’s Draymond, albeit likely more diplomatic at practice.
He’s Draymond because of the way he wins with his mind, his unique ability to elevate the other talents on the team in a way that nobody else quite can, and his instincts/decision-making that are a step ahead. The joke among Warriors fans is that Draymond shoots like he’s wearing a backpack, and sometimes a deep throw by Brock can feel that way.
You trust their decisions to rip it, but you know their physical talent is at a point that they need to be really locked in a flow state to be hitting those shots. They can’t just roll out of bed and nail deep 3s/throws without trying like a Klay or a Justin Herbert.
Their game requires them to be fully in a flow state, moreso than anybody else, which is how they win. The bigger the moment, the deeper they dig. Draymond went 6/8 from 3 in Game of 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, but they lost to Cleveland. He’s won three rings since, which goes to show how much bouncing back matters more to your story than what knocked you down in the first place. All you need is the opportunity to dig deep again. Brock and the 49ers get their chance on Monday Night.