There's no doubt that yesterday's game between the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins was seen by the football world as a test, a measuring stick, and possibly a postseason preview of two teams riding winning streaks and seeking to define themselves as contenders. For the Niners, it was time to come together as a team that had been rebooted, injured, and was finally putting together something special.
And that's more or less how the script played out on Sunday at Levi's Stadium, just not in a way anyone would have predicted. After the loss of Jimmy Garoppolo to a foot injury, the 49ers have rebooted, yet again, to version 3.0. With San Francisco beating an uncharacteristically listless Dolphin offense yesterday 33-17, the Niners have won five straight and lead their division.
How far can this reboot of this rebooted team go? No one knew that even with veteran backup quarterback Jimmy G at the helm. But the sky feels like the limit.
After Miami scored on the very first play of the game, Jimmy Garoppolo led his team straight down the field, hitting Brandon Aiyuk for a big gain on 3rd down, then slinging it to Christian McCaffrey a few plays later for a 25-yard reception. The Niners were on the Miami 20 on a 3rd down when the Dolphins came for Jimmy G, who managed to briefly avoid the sack and fight for five positive yards before an awkward-looking tackle, which forced a Robbie Gould field goal.
The game went straight to commercial at 7-3 before a word was said about what would turn out to be Jimmy G's season-ending injury.
Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who came into yesterday's game leading the league in touchdown and efficiency ratings, had the first in what would be a series of incomplete-pass-riddled possessions resulting in punts. That's about the time we heard that Garoppolo had been taken off the field in a "cart."
Well, that's not good. One does not usually come back on the cart in which they left. We later learned what we had suspected: Jimmy G would not return — maybe ever.
So that's when we got our first look at... sorry, who again?
I had to go to Wikipedia to find information on the 49ers' backup backup quarterback, 22-year-old Brock Purdy, who played four years for the Iowa State Cyclones before being selected by San Francisco for the final, 262nd pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, "making him the Mr. Irrelevant of that year," Wiki said, referring to the nickname given to the final draft pick.
While we feared the worst about the fate of Jimmy G, Purdy was as solid as any Niners' fan could have hoped. He stood in the pocket and fired up the middle, and later rolled out and found open receivers. He completed 25 of 37 attempts for 210 yards with two touchdown passes and one pick.
Purdy was handed the keys midway through the first quarter at about midfield, and marched his team to the end zone. Christian McCaffrey, who was questionable coming into Sunday's game, quickly became the go-to guy, and running back... who again? Sorry, Jordan Mason, who was in for the injured Elijah Mitchell, had something like 30 yards on his first two carries. In the red zone on a 1st and goal, Purdy hit Kyle Juszczyk for a three-yard touchdown pass for Brock's first career TD throw.
Score, 10-7 at the end of the first quarter.
"Is it surreal to go from being the last pick in the draft to the starting quarterback?" a reporter asked Purdy at the postgame interview. "Have you had any time to process it?"
"Yeah, I mean it's a thing," Purdy answered, not elaborating on the larger context of leading a team probably destined for the playoffs.
Soon after Purdy's unexpected (and unlikely) appearance, Miami rushed the Niners young QB like it was battle scene from Lord of the Rings, blitzing with what seemed like an entire battalion on what seemed like every other play. "To do that almost every third down early in the game, and even on a couple of first and second downs, they were definitely trying to pressure me to get off my toes." Purdy said at the postgame interview. "Maybe they don't respect me because I'm a rookie — it's part of the game."
Despite the onslaught, Purdy led the Niners on another long drive late in the first half, which culminated in an easy three-yard touchdown pass to Christian McCaffrey.
Second career touchdown pass for Purdy; 17-10 Niners at the half.
At least part of the storyline in the 49ers' win over the Dolphins yesterday was the uncharacteristic (the announcers called it "shocking") play of Tua Tagovailoa, who had a case of the yips and was missing wide-open receivers. This isn't to say that the Niners defense didn't live up to it's best-in-the-league standing. Nick Bosa got to Tagovailoa three times yesterday for sacks.
Tagovailoa hadn't thrown an interception since September, but started making up for it on Miami's first drive early in the third quarter. He threw back to back picks which both led to 49er field goals. Score: 23-10 near the end of the third quarter.
The Dolphins managed to string together a fast drive between the third and fourth quarter, culminating in a 45-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill. After a short possession by the Niners, the Dolphins were driving again in what I'll call the "challenge-and-overturn" part of the game that was brilliantly played by the San Francisco sideline.
The Niners successfully challenged a 3rd and 1 reception by Miami; the Dolphins went for it on 4th and 1, from their own 18, and made it. On a 4th and 2 around the Niners' 45-yard line, the Dolphins again appeared to have the conversion, but a San Francisco challenge overturned the call, and gave the ball back to San Francisco late in the fourth.
Purdy then put together another strong drive that lingered on the edge of field-goal range, but Robbie Gould hit a 48 yarder to make it 26-17 Niners.
There was a cherry placed atop the game: As Miami started their last, desperate drive with two minutes to play, Nick Bosa swiped Tua Tagovailoa's arm, sending the ball fluttering to the ground where it was collected by Dre Greenlaw who ran it in for a touchdown.
We have arrived at our final score of 33-17.
In a postgame interview, 49ers' linebacker Fred Warner was asked if Garoppolo's sudden exit changes how he views the rest of the season:
"No, not at all. It's a lot to ask of a rookie, being thrust into the position he's in, but at the same time, he doesn't have to do too much. He has so many weapons on that side of the ball."
Top Image: Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images