The 49ers started the season 5-0 and entered Sunday on a three-game losing skid, while Jacksonville entered on a five-game heater after a 1-2 start. When all was said and done, San Francisco looked like the team who entered on the hot streak, leaving Jacksonville with a convincing 34-3 victory and its first win in 35 days.
The offense scored its highest point total since the 49ers’ last win when it scored 42 against Dallas, but the defense is the story and leads Sunday’s winners and losers:
Winner: DC Steve Wilks and how close he was to the field
All the commotion over the defense when all the 49ers needed to do was move Wilks closer to the field.
After a shaky 49ers defense allowed 31 points to the Bengals to extend the team’s losing streak to three, Wilks deemed it necessary to move from the booth to the field, which seemed to be the key. After allowing 24 points per game over the last three games, the 49ers defense held Jacksonville to only three points, the fewest allowed by San Francisco since shutting out New Orleans in Week 12 last season.
A ferocious pass rush led the way with five sacks, and the defense forced four turnovers in what was quickly the defense’s best performance of the season. Maybe it was adjustments made over the bye week, or it was Wilks proximity to the field, but the heat is off the 49ers defensive coordinator for at least this week.
Winner: The pass rush
If you want to focus on what caused the turnaround for the 49ers’ defense, look no further than the front four. The 49ers starting defensive line of Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave, and Chase Young combined for 11 tackles, two for a loss, four sacks, eight quarterback hits, and a forced fumble.
Bosa and Young will take the headlines, as the Ohio State duo played their first game together since the Halloween trade for Young. The highlight play for the defense came early in the second quarter when the 49ers pass rush tandem got to Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence at the same time to share a sack.
But while the duo was taking Lawrence to the ground, Bosa was able to rip the ball out and recover the fumble, forcing the game’s first turnover.
With the excitement around the edges, the interior of the 49ers defensive line played just as well. It took no time for an impact play, with a Hargrave pressure of Lawrence on Jacksonville’s first third down of the game forcing the quarterback to step into a sack split by the 49ers tackles. Hargrave’s dominance continued with another third-down sack later in the third quarter and pressures that led to a Clelin Ferrell sack and a Fred Warner interception.
The pass rush got going a couple of weeks ago against the Bengals, and the addition of Young was the push the front four needed to find its proper form.
Winner: Points on the opening drive
It might have seemed like a small feat, but the 49ers opening four-play, 57-yard touchdown drive was the first opening drive points the offense has scored since the Week 6 loss in Cleveland. Jake Moody’s 39-yard first-quarter field goal gave the 49ers multiple scores in the opening quarter for the first time since Week 4.
It’s no secret that Kyle Shanahan’s offense needs things to stay on schedule to function at its fullest, and part of that would be scoring early. It shouldn’t be surprising that the offense seemingly found its groove once it could grab the early lead. After that, the offense almost went into autopilot, averaging 4.8 yards per rush attempt and 9.8 yards per pass attempt.
Winner: QB Brock Purdy
After three weeks of throwing at least one interception, Purdy had a clean game against a team that, entering Sunday, had the highest turnover percentage in the league.
Not only was it a mistake-free performance, but it was an all-around good performance. The quarterback completed 19 of his 26 pass attempts for 296 yards and three touchdowns.
His first touchdown pass was his most adventurous throw of the day. Purdy scrambled left before stopping right at the line of scrimmage to turn his body to throw a pass that was intended for either Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, Andre Cisco, or Tyson Campbell – an argument can be made for any of the players – but Purdy put just enough touch on the ball to find Aiyuk to give the 49ers an early 7-0 lead.
Purdy’s best play came early in the third quarter, where he stood strong in a collapsing pocket with Travon Walker bearing down on him. Not only was he able to get the pass off, but it was perfectly placed downfield to George Kittle dealing with Devin Lloyd in one-on-one coverage for a 66-yard touchdown – the longest of Purdy’s career – to put the 49ers up 20-3.
Sunday marked the third time Purdy has thrown for at least 290 yards in his career. With Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams returning, the offense returned to full strength, and Purdy’s performance showed just that.
Loser: CB Deommodore Lenoir
It was a game to forget for Lenoir, who mainly played in the slot on Sunday with Ambry Thomas getting snaps out wide. Lenoir’s biggest issue was his tackling. Lenoir had several missed tackles that resulted in significant gains for Jacksonville’s offense, including plays that went for 16 and 17 yards.
Not only was tackling an issue for Lenoir, but he also had some issues in coverage. He first allowed a 28-yard reception to Christian Kirk out of the slot, where the cornerback got beat at the line of scrimmage thanks to a sound chip from Calvin Ridley. Later in the third, Lawrence threw a prayer to Kirk downfield that was so underthrown Lenoir lost Kirk, allowing the receiver to locate and get under the ball for a gain of 39.
The defense had a solid day, but Lenoir’s performance was the weak point.
Loser: RT Colton McKivitz
Purdy was sacked only twice on Sunday – both by Foyesade Oluokon – but it felt like Travon Walker was in the backfield most of the game.
While Trent Williams held Josh Allen largely quiet – three tackles and a quarterback hit – McKivitz had his fair share of issues with Walker. The first hit came early in the second quarter, where Walker bull rushed through McKivitz on a third down, hitting Purdy as he released the ball for an incomplete pass, forcing a punt.
Later in the quarter, with time expiring and the 49ers trying to score before the half, Walker was able to beat McKivitz and get just enough of Purdy’s leg to trip the quarterback up and force an intentional grounding, causing the drive to stall and hold the 49ers to just a field goal.
McKivitz would allow another pressure to Walker, leading to Oluokon’s second sack in the third quarter as well. The right side of the line has been a weakness all season, and Jacksonville took advantage of the 49ers’ right tackle in the loss.