Browns Stun 49ers

The 49ers found a way to lose and lose ugly.  There is something about Jim Schwartz that Kyle Shanahan can’t seem to overcome.  Schwartz always seems to have Shanahan’s number and today was no different.  This game was never about the 49ers defense harassing the Browns 3rd string quarterback.  Today was all about whether the 49ers could defeat an elite defense on the road, and they failed miserably.

The 49ers started off the game receiving the ball and driving the field for a touchdown.  Their first scoring drive was helped by 30 yards worth of Brown’s penalties.  Brock Purdy threw only one pass that drive, and it was a shovel pass to Christian McCaffrey for a touchdown.

It looked like the 49ers were going to be off to the races when Fred Warner intercepted PJ Walker for a 32-yard return.  However, the Browns forced a three and out and Jake Moody missed the 54-yard field goal attempt.  This was a harbinger of things to come.

The rhythm of the game changed a bit when Deebo Samuel went into the locker-room with a shoulder injury.  Then the rain started to fall and with it a flurry of penalty flags on both teams.  The Browns started the game chippy.  They never let up.  Schwartz dialed up pressure after pressure, keeping his defensive backs in man-to-man coverage almost the whole game.  The Niners passing attack is largely dependent on timing.  The Browns understood that if they can disrupt the routes, either off the line of scrimmage or at the stem, then they had a chance.  Couple scrappy defensive back play with a constantly stunting line, and this is a recipe for a long day for Brock Purdy.  Schwartz’s game plan eventually forced Purdy’s first interception throw of the year.

Though PJ Walker threw two interceptions, he made enough plays to help the Browns win the game.  The Browns were able to rush for 160 yards against the Niners which worked greatly to set up their passing attack.  Walker didn’t throw a touchdown, but he kept the chains moving with his arm allowing Karem Hunt to score a rushing touchdown and Dustin Hopkins to win the game with his leg.

Christian McCaffrey was ruled out of the game in the second half due to an oblique injury.  With the loss of Deebo and McCaffrey, Coach Shanahan struggled to find the right plays for his team to execute.  The plays he did dial up were hampered by the weather and an uncharacteristically off target Brock Purdy.   The passing attack lacked rhythm due to Schwartz’s approach.  However, the weather also played a part as the ball started to slip out of Purdy’s hand late in the first half as the rain showered the field.

Cleveland Browns players and coaches celebrate, rear, as San Francisco 49ers place kicker Jake Moody (4) and Mitch Wishnowsky react after Moody missed a field goal during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Today’s game was winnable.  Jake Moody missing the walk off 41-yard field goal was the perfect way to encapsulate the 49ers loss.  The Niners last offensive drive, Purdy threw three incompletes to start the drive.  Greg Newsome’s pass interference penalty against Juan Jennings on third down kept the drive alive.  Then Purdy connected with Brandon Aiyuk for a 25-yard gain.  Fifteen of those yards were yards after the catch.  After connecting with Aiyuk again and then Jennings, Coach Shanahan decided to throttle the offense down and center the ball on the field.  They had driven to the 23-yard line with 45 seconds to go.  For some reason he didn’t want to execute another pass play.  I think Coach Shanahan hoped to bleed the clock out and execute the walk off field goal.  Unfortunately, his plan was foiled when Moody’s kick was wide right.  The last drive was just like the game.  There was some good, some bad, a few penalties and a fail to convert when the Niners needed it most.

Despite the loss, the Niners know they are the better team.  They know they left points on the field.  McCaffrey almost broke open a run for a touchdown in the first quarter.  Purdy overthrew him on a rushed throw that would have been another touchdown in the second quarter.  Then there were the two missed field goals.

There was some good that came out of the game.  Randy Gregory quickly showed why John Lynch made the trade.  Gregory’s presence was felt whenever he was on the field.  Gregory and Bosa each collected a sack while Deommodore Lenoir snagged the 49ers second interception of the game.  Overall, it was a decent defensive performance, but certainly not up to the standard the 49ers have set this year.

Games should never be decided by the referees.  Teams should play well enough to overcome bad calls.  Today, during PJ Walker’s last drive of the game, the 49ers forced a three and out.  The third down play ended when Tashaun Gipson hit the receiver on an overthrown ball.  He was penalized for unnecessary roughness on a defenseless receiver; however, his hit didn’t hit the head or neck area.  Arguably this call changed the whole game.  After this terrible call, the Browns went on to score a field goal to take the lead, eventually winning the game.  Sure, the 49ers had a chance to win, and they failed.  However, this penalty call was made at such a critical point in the game that it affected the outcome.  The problem is that it was clearly the wrong call.  The NFL needs to consider reviewing these types of call’s when the game is on the line to determine if the referee made a mistake in the moment.  I don’t blame the loss on this call, but many folks will.

The 49ers have much to learn from in this game.  Purdy was not ready to throw a wet ball.  Coach Shanahan was not ready to scheme without two of his best players.  Jake Moody was not ready to execute kicks in his biggest game of the year.  Coach Shanahan knew this would be a tough game.  Now that they have put on some bad ugly tape, they will learn from it and move on.  It was a bad day at the office, however it is not as season ender.  Deebo will be back.  McCaffrey will be back.  The Niners will learn and overcome moving forward.

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