With four weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, the San Francisco 49ers might have overtaken the Philadelphia Eagles as the most dangerous team in the NFC.
The 49ers, who were working with third-string rookie quarterback Brock Purdy against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Week 14, dominated Tampa Bay on Sunday. The league-leading defense undoubtedly played a role in the 35-7 beatdown. But most importantly, Purdy looked more than capable of replacing Jimmy Garoppolo for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
The seventh-rounder, specifically the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, showed pocket awareness and an improved mobility than that of Garoppolo. He showed an understanding of a complex Kyle Shanahan offense, which might get even more creative given Purdy’s ability on quarterback-designed runs. He showed he can make difficult throws. He showed he can manage an NFL game. If you want to take Purdy’s impact even one step further, there’s an argument to be made it was the most impressive start of any 49ers quarterback this season, including both Garoppolo and 2021 No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance.
After all, San Francisco’s offense looked better than it has all season, and that was with an injured Deebo Samuel sidelined for the enter second half. Samuel’s ankle injury reportedly will cause him to miss some time, but the expectation is he’ll be back before the regular season concludes. The All-Pro playmaker certainly is a crucial piece should San Francisco make a deep run.
It feels like a certainty the 9-4 49ers will run away with the NFC West as the Seattle Seahawks fell two games back with four remaining. San Francisco likely won’t be able to catch up to the 12-1 Philadelphia Eagles for the No. 1 seed, but could very well finish second, supplanting the 10-3 Minnesota Vikings.
Nevertheless, just as questions surfaced whether Purdy could take over for Garoppolo, the 49ers received a clear indication he could do just that — they might even be better.
Here are more takeaways from Week 14 in the NFL:
— The New England Patriots sneaked past the Kyler Murray-less Arizona Cardinals on Monday night, but it wasn’t an effort that inspired much confidence — something ESPN’s Troy Aikman and Joe Buck made quite apparent during the broadcast. So while the Patriots now are in possession of the seventh and final AFC playoff spot, it’s still realistic New England could miss out on the dance. The offense is far too vanilla and the play-calling far too easy to plan for. The fact Matt Patricia and company opted to target Hunter Henry merely three times against the league’s worst defense against tight ends was rather glaring.
— We’re banking on the Los Angeles Chargers to continue their playoff push, and ultimately earn the seventh spot. The Chargers had their playoff chances improved to 73% after a Week 14 win, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), all while Justin Herbert looked more like his usual self with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams healthy. And the defense held the high-powered Miami Dolphins, admittedly hindered by Tyreek Hill’s injury, to 17 points. LA has the easiest remaining schedule among playoff hopefuls, including the New York Jets and Patriots, too.
— Is it really possible Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers miss out on the postseason? Brady’s offense was held to seven points while the signal-caller threw multiple interceptions for the first time all season against the 49ers. Much like the Patriots, it was an uninspiring performance for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay also had its NFC South lead cut to one game with both the 5-8 Carolina Panthers and 5-8 Atlanta Falcons right behind the Buccaneers. Perhaps the NFC playoff picture is more wide open than it recently seemed.
— Josh McDaniels and the Las Vegas Raiders have suffered two of the most embarrassing losses of the NFL season. Less than one month after the Raiders fell to the Indianapolis Colts in the coaching debut of Jeff Saturday, Las Vegas took the field in primetime Thursday night and allowed Baker Mayfield to orchestrate a game-winning drive. Baker Mayfield arrived in LA two days prior. McDaniels probably isn’t going anywhere this season, but performances like Week 14 make it more difficult to rationalize.
— The Dallas Cowboys, who entered as 17-point home favorites, squeaked out a win over the one-win Houston Texans. And while we’re not of the belief it was a “good” win, there’s something to be said about a team that wins ugly — extremely ugly. Dallas’ goal-line stand in crunch time proves they have the defense that could have them in the mix down the stretch.