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Grades for the 49ers 19-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns


This was an ugly game for the 49ers, in more ways than one. In addition to losing the contest, they also lost several key players for an undetermined amount of time (at the time of this post).


Time to take some medicine, so let's get to it.


Brock Purdy: C

Without question, this was Brock Purdy's worst game as the 49ers' starting quarterback. While he was under pressure for the entire game, Brock did the one thing he hadn't done to this point: Made bad plays worse.


For example, with the Niners' up 10-7 and facing a 3rd & 15 at the Browns' 35 yard line, Purdy dropped back to pass and fumbled the ball while attempting a throw. The resulting sack cost the 49ers six yards, and eliminated a chance at a field goal. While there's no guarantee Jake Moody would have made the kick (more on him later), that is a big deal in a game you lost by two points.


Purdy also had a bad interception, missed Christian McCaffrey for a likely touchdown, and was generally inaccurate in the Cleveland rain. Brandon Aiyuk did have a big drop on a deep ball, but that one play does not excuse Purdy's poor performance.


None of this means Purdy isn't or can't be a good quarterback, by the way. All QBs have bad games. Brock could easily bounce back on Monday night against the Vikings. On this specific day, however, in this specific game, he was bad. It's okay to say that.


Offensive Line: F

Yuck, yuck, yuck.


Sunday was an absolutely abysmal performance by the offensive line. Trent Williams is the only player who even has a hint of an excuse thanks to an ankle injury. Everyone else got punched right in the face and never recovered.


The 49ers faced eight 3rd downs in the second half, and only two of them were shorter than 10 yards. That was largely due to the turnstile that Brock Purdy had in front of him. Browns nose tackle Dalvin Tomlinson was in the backfield so often he might as well have been in San Francisco's huddle.


The 49ers were constantly behind the sticks in the second half, and that was in large part due to the line up front.


Yes, the Browns have a good defense, but that's inexcusable. The 49ers "gained" -12 yards in the third quarter. Seriously.


The Receivers: C+

Deebo Samuel got hurt, Brandon Aiyuk had multiple drops, and no one else could get open on Sunday. The Browns were in man coverage on 71% of the 49ers' drop backs, and it was easy to see why.


All told, Brock Purdy was just 7 of 17 for 96 yards with a TD and a pick against man coverage - and the TD came on a shovel pass to CMC on the first drive of the game.


George Kittle couldn't buy a target in this one. He saw only two passes on the day and caught one for one yard. I realize the 49ers needed help in pass protection, but that's just unacceptable. Clearly Kittle staying in to block wasn't helping anyway so why not get him the ball in space and see what happens?


Brandon Aiyuk has played great this season, but if he wants to be considered a top wideout in the league, and most importantly get paid like one, he's got to reel in more of the 10 targets he saw on Sunday - particularly the deep ball that hit him in the hands. I know some of the other throws were inaccurate, but the great receivers still make those plays.


The Defense: A

The only reason San Francisco even had a shot to win this game was because Steve Wilks' defense balled out.


Not only did they force two massive turnovers, they should have had a third on a fumble that would have put the 49ers in position to score at least a field goal. The only reason San Francisco scored in the second half is because of Deommodore Lenoir's interception and return that gave the offense the ball at the Browns' eight yard line.


When PJ Walker was driving the ball down the field late in the game, Nick Bosa delivered a sack on third down that held the Browns to a field goal and kept the lead for the 49ers. Yes, Cleveland would get another field goal late in the game, but they had a little help.


Which brings me to...


The Referees: F

I'm not usually a "blame the refs" kind of guy, but this game was ridiculous. All told, the refs called 25 penalties in the game for a total of 224 yards - both were season highs in 2023. On the Browns' go-ahead drive, officials called a bogus 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Tashaun Gibson after a 3rd down incompletion that gave the offense an automatic first down. Two plays later they flagged Mooney Ward for a very suspect holding penalty that again erased an incompletion and gave the offense a first down.


It didn't all go in Cleveland's favor, either. At one point the refs missed a blatant facemask by the 49ers, and even almost penalized the Browns for a San Francisco infraction before being corrected by the replay center in New York.


The 49ers lost this game of their own volition, but the officials sure didn't do their jobs to the best of their ability.


Special Teams: D+

This grade isn't all about Jake Moody, but he's most of it. Moody simply has to make a 41 yard field goal at the end of the game. He has to.


The 54 yard miss earlier in the day was frustrating but excusable considering it was his first missed kick of any fashion for the entire year.


However, when you're replacing a very clutch kicker in Robbie Gould, and you're a Super Bowl team, and you're vying for the top spot in the conference, kicks to win games simply have to be made. Especially kicks that are little more than an extra point.


Hopefully Moody can course-correct like he did after a shaky preseason. Even Gould didn't make ALL his clutch kicks, after all. Like the rest of the team, Moody will have to bounce back in Week 7.


Outside of Moody, the special teams were up and down. Mitch Wishnowsky continues his excellent season with an average of 52 yards per punt on six attempts Sunday. He even had two more downed inside the 20 yard line. Yet again, however, the 49ers committed a dumb penalty on special teams when a player on the coverage unit ran down the field out of bounds instead of immediately returning to the field of play as the rule dictates. Way too many unforced errors for. Brian Schneider's unit in 2023.

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