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Grades for the 49ers 34-31 win in the NFC Championship Game


The 49ers didn't play like the team we saw against the Eagles and Cowboys on Sunday night.


Instead they played like champions.


Careers are built in the regular season, but legacies are written in the playoffs. The 49ers are penning a hell of a story right now.


Brock Purdy: A+

I don't care about the first half. When you lead your team to a come back after being down by 17 points - tied for the biggest deficit overcome in NFC Championship Game history - you get an A+.


Simply put, Brock was at his best when his best was required. In the second half, Purdy went 13-16 with 223 total yards of offense and a touchdown. His three scrambles were crucial plays that not only avoided negative plays, but also picked up first downs on chunk plays.


In 2019 Jimmy Garoppolo needed a first down in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV to likely hold off an incredible Chiefs comeback. When the pressure came in the pocket, Garoppolo couldn't make a play outside of the structure of the offense and drives died on the vine. Last night, Brock Purdy used his legs to make plays when things weren't perfect. That was the difference in the game.


It's been a very long time since the 49ers' quarterback was the best player on the field for them in a playoff game, but it happened on Sunday in the biggest of moments.



Christian McCaffrey: A+

During the week I pointed out that CMC has never had a bad game with the 49ers. That holds true today.


The box score says McCaffrey had 24 touches for 132 yards and 2 TD in the game. In reality he was far better than that. Multiple times in the game, McCaffrey squeezed every single drop of yardage that was there to be gained out of a play. He dodged tackles, he contorted his body, he steamrolled people. Whatever the situation required, McCaffrey provided.


For the second straight week, CMC found the end zone multiple times. He has now scored at least one touchdown in each of his five playoff games as a member of the 49ers. No one else to ever wear the scarlet and gold can say that.


Had he not suffered a stinger late in the game, he would have scored a third touchdown as well. If the 49ers are going to beat the Chiefs in two weeks, CMC is going to be a huge reason why.


Receivers: B+

Before the year began I said that Brandon Aiyuk was going to have to maximize his touches in order to put up a big season and get paid. He certainly did that, and in the playoffs he's taken idea that even further.


BA only had 68 yards on the day, and 75% of them came on this one, ridiculous play:



I've seen it called the Immaskulate Reception. I've seen it called The Fluke to Aiyuk. Whatever you want to call it, it was an incredible catch by Brandon, and immediately jump-started the 49ers offense.


It also wouldn't have meant anything, however, without Aiyuk shaking off his man and catching a touchdown on 3rd and Goal three plays later. So far in two playoff games, Brandon Aiyuk has 6 total catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. Every single one of those receptions has gone for either a first down or a touchdown, and almost all of them could be called the most important plays in their respective games. Truly WR1 type play from Aiyuk in the biggest moments in these playoffs.


Credit also goes to Deebo Samuel, who spent hours in rehab this week in order to be able to play in this game. Samuel notched 11 touches for 96 yards on the day (including catches on 8 of his 9 targets) and provided his typical physical presence.


George Kittle really only contributed on one reception in the game, a 28 yard catch-and-run that got the 49ers into field goal range early in the fourth quarter. He was a part of the group that helped stonewall Aidan Hutchinson into a 0 sack, 0 QB hit performance, however.


Defensive Front: C

The first half of this game U-G-L-Y ugly. Detroit bullied the 49ers' front 7 from balls to brains. The Lions ran the ball 21 times in the first two quarters for a whopping 148 yards and 7.0 yards per carry. Nick Bosa called the performance embarrassing and he was one hundred precent correct.


In the second half, however, things tightened considerably. After halftime, the Lions only ran the ball eight times for 34 yards - 4.24 yards per attempt.


Speaking of Nick Bosa, by the way, he looked like a different player last night. After going his last four playoff games without a sack, Bosa pulled Jared Goff down twice in the game and hit him 4 more times. What's more, he didn't do his customary "shrug" celebration after the sacks. In fact, he barely celebrated at all because he knew what was expected of him. After the game when he was asked about filling up the stat sheet Bosa replied, "It's about time."


Secondary: C

Like everyone on the 49ers, things were dicey in the first half. On the rare occasion the Lions had a third and long, Detroit had zero problem converting. The Niners were in zone defense on every snap in the first half, and Goff picked it apart from a mostly clean pocket.


After halftime, the Niners benefitted greatly from some costly Lions' drops - no doubt about it. Josh Reynolds dropped passed on both 4th & 2 and a 3rd & 9 that should have extended Lions drives. However, Tashaun Gibson also forced a massive fumble that led to a game-tying score, and Ji'Ayir Brown returned to make an incredible 10 tackles in the game.


Special Teams: C

Jake Moody did his typical Jake Moody thing in this one and missed a 48 yard field goal in the first quarter - wide right, again. Then, later in the game when the Niners absolutely had to have them, Moody drilled 33 and 43 yarders. He was also perfect on all four extra points. He's been a roller coaster for the Niners this year for sure, but he's still been more good than bad.


Kyle Shanahan: B

I will never understand how Kyle's offense can absolutely grind to a halt at times, even against a defense like the Lions. Despite the fact that Detroit had given up more passing yards than anyone in the NFL since Week 16, San Francisco passed for just 93 total yards in the first half.


At the biggest points in the game, Brock Purdy's legs moved the ball down the field rather than the Shanahan Specials that we've seen so often over the years.


One thing I do want to give Shanahan major credit for, however, is his play-calling in the second half. Over and over again, Shanahan gave his studs the opportunity to make a play. Deebo in the flat, CMC over the middle. The deep shot to Brandon Aiyuk.


"Players over plays," he told his assistants once the third quarter began, and that's exactly what we saw.


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