49ers seal NFC West behind Brock Purdy ‘on balance’, stifling defense

SEATTLE — Fred Warner has been there before. This time, he noted, he made sure to enjoy the moment.

Three years ago, the San Francisco 49ers won prime-time NFC West at Lumen Field before advancing to the Super Bowl.

So it’s only fitting that Warner and a similarly built 49ers team with title aspirations won the division again by hitting the road and dealing with the Seattle Seahawks 21-13 on Thursday Night Football.

“Knowing that we got it that way, in that atmosphere again, it means the world,” Warner said. “It was a complete team victory. We needed everyone and I’m super proud of our group.”

Beleaguered by the star linebacker and the rest of the Niners defense throughout the night, the Seahawks had just 277 total yards on offense. They didn’t reach the red zone until late in the fourth quarter and finished 4 of 13 on third down. They also failed to protect quarterback Geno Smith, who took three sacks, was tagged six more times and averaged just 4.4 yards per pass play.

For the 49ers, it was yet another demonstration on the national stage that they may have the best defense in the league.

San Francisco has now clinched the division earlier than its two previous instances – 2019, 2012 – which both led to Super Bowl appearances. The club also sits just half a game behind the Vikings for the NFC’s No. 2 seed. Equally important, the win demonstrated that even with rookie quarterback Brock Purdy replacing the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers remain a legitimate threat in a title run.

Playing just four days after suffering oblique and rib injuries, Purdy hasn’t kicked practice this week, only testing his health with a few throws during the team hotel visit on Thursday and during pre-match warm-ups.

“I was in rehab myself and he was in pain last night,” San Francisco defensive lineman Arik Armstead said of Purdy. “And today, to dump him and have that type of performance, it shows how tough he is and shows his character.”

Warner added, “I really didn’t have to say anything to him. Sometimes you see a rookie quarterback — or a rookie in general — and you go up to him, let him know, ‘Hey, I got your back. But I really didn’t feel the need to do that to him, because I know what Brock is made of. And I know he’s ready to go.

The Iowa State product appears unaffected by the injury. Purdy played confidently in his first road contest as a professional completing his first 10 passes. He went 17 of 26 for 217 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, posting a passer rating of 117.0.

Purdy’s effort included converting a third-and-1 from the San Francisco 34-yard line with 2:42 remaining and the game in the balance. The snappy QB rolled to his right out of play and rushed for the first down, sliding inbounds to move the chains and run the clock. Jordan Mason quickly sealed the victory with a 55-yard run that allowed the Niners to kneel the ball.

“He’s definitely the most ready recruit [quarterback] I never had,” coach Kyle Shanahan said of Purdy. “He’s been like this since he got here.”

Just 12 days ago, Purdy relieved Garoppolo and led the Niners over the Dolphins in the first extended action of his young career. Last Sunday he made his debut and topped Tom Brady in a blowout against the Buccaneers. On Thursday, he earned his first road win in one of football’s most hostile environments against rival Seahawks for the NFC West crown.

A nice entry into the NFL for Mr. Irrelevant, huh?

“It’s special and everything,” Purdy said. “But honestly, I’m just another piece, another piece of this team, in terms of the guy coming in and doing what he’s told. I’m the quarterback. I have to make decisions. I do trust the way the coaches teach me every week. I just try to get the balls back to the guys on time.”

San Francisco improved to 10-4 with the win, the team’s seventh straight, while the Seahawks fell to 7-7 this year and are currently out of the playoff field.

Nick Bosa recorded three QB hits and a sack, bringing his total to 15.5 on the season and matching his career high from last year. He becomes the first 49er with multiple 15-sack seasons since the stat became official in 1982.

Safety Talanoa Hufanga and defensive end Samson Emukam also scored sacks. Linebacker Dr. Greenlaw made the most hard-hitting play of the game. With San Francisco leading 7-3 and 1:27 remaining in the first half, the fourth-year player delivered a hard blow to Seattle running back Travis Homer, dislodging the ball.

Cornerback Charvarius Ward picked up the fumble and brought it back 40 yards to Seattle’s 6-yard line. Two plays later, Christian McCaffrey dove a yard for the touchdown, giving the Niners a 14-3 cushion at halftime.

McCaffrey finished with 138 yards from scrimmage, including 108 rushing yards on 26 carries.

Tight end George Kittle made the biggest plays offensively, scoring twice on innovative designs from offensive mastermind Shanahan that cheated Seattle’s defense hard.

The first TD came on a fake double-screen pass called “Hollywood” which left Kittle wide open for the game’s opener. The former All-Pro would find dirt again early in the second half, this time on a 54-yard run-and-catch where he was the last read on the play, according to Shanahan. That gave San Francisco a 21-3 lead. It briefly appeared to be 28-3 after a six pick, only for Bosa to be called for a controversial passer roughing that nullified the defensive score.

Seattle had its fair share of penalties and missed chances that contributed to its fate. DK Metcalf was called for offensive pass interference that nullified a big play. The Pro Bowl wide was also flagged for taunting. Quandre Diggs dropped an interception in midfield on a rare error from Purdy. The Seahawks were charged with eight accepted penalties for 79 yards.

Ward did a good job bottling Metcalf before leaving the game late for a concussion evaluation. (CB cleared the protocol but did not return.) Metcalf had seven receptions for 55 yards. Veteran receiver Tyler Lockett suffered a broken finger that could sideline him for the rest of what has been another stellar season.

The Seahawks will be out in three weeks if they don’t right the ship quickly on both sides of the ball.

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Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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