Sunday felt like a game the San Francisco 49ers were never at risk of losing, but it also felt like one they never had a complete handle on. However, it resulted in the 49ers’ seventh win of the season, a 27-14 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Brock Purdy was perfect, and the defense continued the excellent form it showed last week, holding the Tampa Bay offense to under 300 total yards and 14 points. Additionally, Seattle suffered its fourth loss of the season against the Rams, giving San Francisco a full-game lead in the NFC West.
Another good Sunday for the 49ers, with plenty of bright spots. These are the winners and losers from the Week 11 win:
Winner: S Ji’Ayir Brown
Brown entered Sunday with 30 defensive snaps and ended with 36 on Sunday alone.
Thrown into a challenging situation replacing Talanoa Hufanga - who’s feared to have torn his ACL - Brown stepped in and had a near-instant welcome to the NFL moment. With Tampa Bay trailing by three scores, Baker Mayfield found a wide-open Rakim Jarrett, who had zoomed by Brown up the seam for a 44-yard reception to put the Bucs offense near the red zone. Rachaad White would score two plays later to cut the 49ers lead to 13.
After that, Brown put himself on the proverbial NFL map.
Mayfield saw No. 27 and would try to take advantage of the perceived mismatch but to no avail. The quarterback would target Brown again on a crucial fourth down at the 49ers 12-yard-line with a one-on-one matchup against Mike Evans, no easy task. Mayfield would try to lead Evans in the corner of the end zone but put too much air on the ball, giving Brown plenty of time to break it up to end the 17-play drive that would have made it a one-score game midway through the fourth.
Tampa Bay would find itself inside the 49ers 15 three minutes later, and Mayfield would waste no time trying to dip into the well again. Cade Otton bobbled a second-down pass in the end zone, but a big hit from the rookie ensured the ball fell to the ground. On the next play, Mayfield would target Chris Godwin on third down, but the pass found Dre Greenlaw’s helmet, glancing into the air where the opportunistic Brown dove to make the interception, putting the final nail in the coffin.
After a less-than-ideal start, Brown responded and showed why the 49ers traded up to take him in April. He will have to step up with Hufanga presumed out for the year, and Sunday was the best possible first impression for the 87th pick.
Winner: QB Brock Purdy
Mr. Irrelevant cosplayed as Mr. Perfect on Sunday, becoming the first 49ers quarterback and 22nd in NFL history to finish with a perfect 158.3 pass rating with a minimum of 25 pass attempts.
Purdy finished Sunday with 333 yards, completing 21-of-25 passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions for a second consecutive week. Over his last two games, he’s completed 78 percent of his passes for 629 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions against two defenses among the league’s best at forcing turnovers.
He started the day by throwing one of the four incomplete passes and taking a sack to end the 49ers’ first drive. The second-year quarterback followed with a 12-play touchdown scoring drive, completing five-of-six passes for 48 yards, finding Christian McCaffrey for a four-yard touchdown for the game’s first score.
Purdy’s second touchdown pass might have been the most impressive throw of his 445 career attempts. On the third play of San Francisco’s first drive of the second half, Purdy dropped back and planted his foot on the 49ers 15-yard-line before unleashing a ball that traveled 42 air yards on a line, just getting over Jamel Dean’s reach right into Brandon Aiyuk’s pocket for a 76-yard touchdown to put the 49ers up 20-7.
The quarterback would hit George Kittle on the next drive for his third and final touchdown. Not only are Purdy’s last two games impressive by themselves, but they’re in response to maybe the worst two-game stretch of his young career.
Loser: Punt coverage
The punt unit book ended its day with mistakes but wasn’t punished for either.
Mitch Wishnowsky opened his day with a 44-yard punt on the 49ers’ first drive that forced Deven Thompkins to call for a fair catch near the Tampa Bay 20-yard line. As he brought the ball in, George Odum’s leg knocked into Thompkins for a 15-yard fair catch inference penalty, giving Tampa Bay’s offense 15 extra yards that it did nothing with.
Wishnowsky finished his day with a 49-yard punt with four minutes left in the fourth quarter, but this time, Thompkins returned the ball 51 yards, juking Taybor Pepper and zooming past Odum and Wishnowsky to get the ball inside the San Francisco 15 with a chance to steal a quick score to make it a one-score game. Brown would make his game-sealing interception three plays later.
Loser: 4th quarter offense
The 49ers offense had plenty of chances to put the game away in the fourth quarter but opted to keep Tampa Bay in the game for as long as possible.
After scoring 27 points through three quarters, the offense was stuck in neutral for the final 15 minutes. It had four drives in the fourth quarter that lasted a combined 15 plays, covering 37 yards, taking seven minutes off the clock, resulting in two punts and a turnover on downs - the 49ers’ final drive ended the game, lasting to plays for minus-two yards.
Even the offense’s best drive of the fourth quarter ended with disappointment, something that McCaffrey didn’t hide afterward. While holding on to its 27-13 lead, the 49ers had a fourth-and-1 at midfield, looking to extend a seven-play drive that had only taken a minute and a half off the clock. Shanahan called for a McCaffrey run, but Josh Hayes and Antoine Winfield stopped the running back short to give Tampa Bay just a glimmer of hope.
Neither the punt nor the fourth-quarter struggles ended up mattering in the result, but the inability to finish a game San Francisco had control of is something to note.
Winner: DC Steve Wilks
After two weeks on the sideline, it’s safe to say Wilks has the 49ers defense back.
Tampa’s offense couldn’t get anything going, averaging 4.5 yards per pass (lowest of the season) and 3.7 yards per rush attempt. Fred Warner led the defense with 12 tackles with a pair of pass deflections, while the pass rush managed another four sacks.
But what stood out the most on Sunday was the secondary. Mayfield threw 16 incomplete passes, with Charvarius Ward and others breaking up several passes. Evans was targeted 12 times but only finished with 43 yards - his most targets in a game this season but his third-lowest yardage output. The defense even faced consecutive drives in the fourth quarter, where Tampa Bay found itself inside the 49ers 15-yard-line but finished with zero points.
The first of those red zone stops was Wilks’ best play call of the season. Tashaun Gipson had a third down interception knocked out of his hands in a collision that would take Ward off the field with just under seven minutes left in the game up 13 points.
Ward’s injury forced Isaiah Oliver into the game, having played no snaps before. Wilks had Oliver lined up in press coverage in the slot on Evans on the fourth-and-4, with Brown lined up nine yards behind. Even the FOX broadcast pointed out the mismatch, highlighting the two 49ers defenders responsible for Evans.
When Mayfield snapped the ball, Oliver zipped past Evans on a blitz with a free run at Mayfield, forcing the quarterback to adjust the angle of the ball, allowing Brown to break up the pass and force the turnover.
Wilks’ performances have been observed under a microscope after the losing streak, and he’s responded with back-to-back stellar games.
NFL points per game allowed from Week 5 on:— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) November 20, 2023
1) PIT: 15.8
2) SF: 16.5
3) KC: 16.6
4) BAL: 17
5) GB: 17.7
28) DET: 24.3
Winner: The big three pass catchers
Of Purdy’s 333 passing yards against Tampa Bay, the trio of Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and Deebo Samuel combined for 308 yards, hauling in 15 of his 20 completions.
Sunday marked the third 300-yard game of both the season and career of Purdy, but it was the first that included all three of his main receiving options. Aiyuk was out when Purdy threw for 310 against the Giants, and Samuel was out when the quarterback went for 365 against Cincinnati. All three receivers accounted for an explosive play as well.
Aiyuk had the 76-yard touchdown, while Kittle’s first reception was his longest game, going for 24 yards. Samuel added a 40-yard catch-and-run, leading to the 49ers’ final touchdown.
The benefit of having three pass-catchers like the 49ers trio is if one has an off-game, there are still options. But when all three are on like they were on Sunday, San Francisco’s pass game is nearly unstoppable, and it was against Tampa Bay.