After ruining his brother Jim and the 49ers’ Thanksgiving in 2011, John Harbaugh was the Grinch to Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers of Whoville with a dominating 33-19 win on Christmas.
Baltimore’s defense gave Brock Purdy and the 49ers offense fits all night, forcing five turnovers resulting in 17 points for a Baltimore offense that faced little resistance from the San Francisco defense. Lamar Jackson beat the 49ers with 252 passing yards, a pair of touchdowns, and a team-high 45 rushing yards, with the defense having no answer to the newest MVP favorite.
It was a consequences-free game but still ended with a disappointing showing. Here are the three winners and losers from Monday night:
Winner: Silver linings
I want to get this one out of the way because while there is some embarrassment in this loss being on national television, this is a game Kyle Shanahan can figuratively - maybe even literally - bury the game ball and forget about.
First, the Monday night loss doesn’t change anything with the 49ers standing in the NFC. While Philadelphia and Detroit are tied record-wise with San Francisco at 11-4, so long as Shanahan’s squad wins its next two games against Washington (not good) and the Rams (flow chart: Shanahan>McVay>Carroll>Cardinals), the NFC will run through Santa Clara and the Big Bell bottom in the playoffs.
Another way to say it is that the 49ers control their destiny even with this loss. San Francisco had a game in hand over the rest of the NFC; if there were a game to lose, it would be to the best team in the AFC.
Second, in terms of who the 49ers lost to, this is a situation where if Baltimore and San Francisco played ten times, nine of the games would be close, with Monday night being the one exception. If these two teams get a rematch in Las Vegas, it would probably be unlikely that Purdy would throw four interceptions.
We will get to his performance next, but look at everything around Purdy. McCaffrey rushed for 103 yards. Kittle, Aiyuk, and Samuel combined for 276 receiving yards. Maybe a couple of balls bounce differently, and instead of four interceptions, Purdy finished with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and things look different.
These are all hypotheticals, but we can do that in this space because all that matters is who would win in a potential rematch in February.
Loser: QB Brock Purdy
Some bad luck on a few throws mixed in with several more bad throws typically ends in a multi-interception in the NFL, and that’s what happened to Purdy on Monday night. Unfortunately, the permanence likely ended any MVP conversation for the second-year quarterback.
Purdy finished the night 18-for-32 with 255 yards, no touchdowns, and four interceptions, doubling his previous career high. His first drive foreshadowed his night. He drove the offense from the San Francisco 11-yard-line down to the Baltimore 15 before throwing maybe his worst pass of the season, targeting Samuel without seeing safety Kyle Hamilton, who gladly stepped in front of the receiver for the pick.
Following a Baltimore safety and the two teams exchanging field goals, Purdy would throw interceptions two and three on consecutive drives. Brandon Stephens would deflect a screen attempt to Samuel into the waiting arms of Marlon Humphrey, followed by a pass intended for George Kittle being broken up and deflected by Humphrey into the hands of Hamilton for his second interception.
The fourth and final drive would start and finish a one-play drive, with the Purdy missing Christian McCaffrey out in front, right into Patrick Queen’s stomach.
To make things worse, Purdy’s night ended three drives later with a Jadeveon Clowney sack re-aggravating the quarterbacks’ stinger he suffered last week in Arizona. Sam Darnold would take over and finish the touchdown-scoring drive to cut the Baltimore lead to 14. The 49ers’ final drive of the night would end with a fifth interception, with Marcus Williams picking off Darnold on a fourth-and must-score.
Purdy returned to earth after being in good form the last month and a half. Monday night is one to quickly move past with a good spot for a bounce-back performance with Washington’s 31st-ranked pass defense on deck.
Loser: the offensive line
Shanahan mentioned postgame he never asked Purdy if he thought he could re-enter the game with his stinger, and the offensive line performance played a large part in the decision.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Baltimore’s defense combined for 39 pressures on Monday night, resulting in four sacks of Purdy and Darnold. Clowney was credited with a game-high seven pressures and had the sack that knocked Purdy out of the game, beating left tackle Colton McKivitz on the first down pass attempt.
The first sack of Purdy came two plays before he was knocked out of the game, with Kyle Van Noy beating right tackle Spencer Burford for a loss of five.
A watchful eye would have noticed that both sacks were allowed by linemen playing outside their normal position. Trent Williams suffered a groin injury at some point during the second half, forcing him out of the game. Jaylon Moore was forced to excite the game with a concussion, and Aaron Banks suffered a toe injury, whittling the 49ers’ offense depth down to its last player, Ben Bartch, who was signed from the Jacksonville practice squad last month.
Baltimore featured one of the best defenses the 49ers offense has faced, and unfortunately, the offensive line couldn’t answer the call.
Winner: RB Christian McCaffrey
While Purdy’s MVP chances may have faded with Monday night, McCaffrey strengthened his case.
McCaffrey finished with 103 carries on 14 attempts with a rushing touchdown - his 21st total touchdown this season, matching Raheem Mostert for most in the league. The running back had the second-longest play from scrimmage for the 49ers’ offense on Monday night, a 39-yard run in the second quarter, just a play before his score. On a drive that went 67 yards, McCaffrey was responsible for 65 on five touches.
With few bright spots on the offense, McCaffrey kept his name in the MVP conversation along with Lamar Jackson.
Winner: TE: George Kittle
There wasn’t much to cheer for on the offense, but Kittle did his best to give that spark multiple times.
Kittle finished Monday night with a game-high 126 receiving yards on ten targets and a team-high seven receptions. The 126 yards was the second-highest total this season from the tight end, missing his season-high against Cincinnati by 23 yards.
On the third play from scrimmage, Purdy hit the People’s Tight End over the middle for a catch-and-run of 58 yards, the longest play of the night for the 49ers. Purdy would hit Kittle for 13 yards on the next play, giving Kittle 71 of the 74 yards on the opening drive.
Kittle would have another couple of receptions for 20 and 16 yards but was also the target of a pair of interceptions.
Not only was the number of penalties and yardage high - 10 for 102 yards - San Francisco had a wide variety of penalties they were guilty of.
On Baltimore’s first scoring drive, 49ers’ safety Tashaun Gipson was called for penalties on consecutive plays, giving the Ravens 37 of its 65 yards needed to set up Justin Tucker’s 28-yard field goal to make it 5-3 late in the first quarter. Gipson was first called for pass interference on a deep shot intended for Isaiah Likely, moving the Baltimore offense into San Francisco territory. He then followed with a face mask - on a play that a Charvarius Ward holding was declined - moving the ball into the red zone.
A Javon Hargrave second-quarter sack forcing a second-and-15 was wiped out on an Ambry Thomas holding on an incomplete pass that would have brought up a third-and-long. Instead, the drive was extended, resulting in another Tucker field goal, extending the Ravens’ lead to four.
Even Mitch Wishnowsky got in on the action, topping off a 23-yard punt return by Tylan Wallace with a late hit out of bounds, moving the ball into plus-territory for the Ravens’ offense. Lamar and Gus Edwards would make the 49ers punter pay with a 35-yard catch-and-run to open a three-play touchdown-scoring drive ending with a Nelson Agholor touchdown, extending the Baltimore lead to two scores.
Turnovers and penalties are critical ingredients to sloppy losses, and the 49ers had both on Monday night.