The 49ers have lost three straight games following a 15-game win streak in the regular season, including Sunday's 31-17 home loss to the Bengals. It was a prime opportunity for Brock Purdy and company to make a statement against a Super Bowl contender after an upset loss in Minnesota.
Instead, it was the third straight game Mr. Irrelevant looked exposed as he faltered in late, close situations. Purdy has five interceptions during San Francisco's losing streak after he had just two during the 10-0 start to his career. All five have come with the 49ers tied or trailing in the second half, a situation he faced very little in his career prior to Week 6 in Cleveland.
Purdy now has three touchdown passes and seven interceptions in his career when tied or trailing in the second half, including playoffs. That's tied for the worst ratio in the NFL in the last two seasons.
Brock Purdy career when tied/trailing in second half
|NFL Rank Since 2022
EPA per play
If you zero in on the most high-leverage situations, he has one touchdown and four interceptions when trailing in the fourth quarter, good for the worst passer rating in those spots in the past two seasons.
This is a 49ers team that has never been built to play from behind with Kyle Shanahan. They have a 30-1 record under Shanahan when up at least eight points at halftime. But, they are 0-37 in that time when down eight-plus points in the fourth quarter, the only team with a loss in every game since 2017. Patrick Mahomes is 6-9 in his career in those situations, one difference between a two-time Super Bowl champion and a team that's fallen just short.
The 49ers have 11 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions with a chance to tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter under Shanahan, the worst ratio (0.6) by any team in the NFL since 2017. They have had one of the league's better offenses under Shanahan, but they rank 30th in the NFL in EPA per play in game-tying or go-ahead situations in the fourth quarter with him.
49ers in game-tying/go-ahead situations in fourth quarter (since 2017)
EPA per play
So, do the 49ers have a Purdy problem? Or is this simply a continuation of the 49ers' QB dilemma under Shanahan? Those are complicated questions.
They are great when playing with a lead because they can lean on a strong run game and make high percentage throws to a multitude of playmakers.
They've struggled in late, close situations because they haven't had a QB who can put the team on his back and make big-time throws when the opposing pass rush can pin its ears back.
Those are reasonable statements, but it may be too early to lump Purdy into those problems given everything around the 49ers' losing streak.
How harshly can Purdy be judged for his interceptions in the clutch in recent weeks? Both his interceptions against the Vikings appeared to come after suffering a concussion on a QB sneak in the fourth quarter. He was also just cleared from concussion protocol Saturday. His first interception against Cincinnati on Sunday was on a broken play that was intended to be a handoff during which linebacker Germaine Pratt made a great play on.
His interception on the following drive where he didn't see linebacker Logan Wilson in coverage was less excusable.
Purdy also kept San Francisco in the game with a few impressive throws down the field, and a few across his body, but it's the turnovers that'll be remembered.
San Francisco has also been shorthanded in recent games. Christian McCaffrey (oblique), Deebo Samuel (shoulder) and Trent Williams (ankle) were all hurt in Week 6 in Cleveland when the losing streak began.
Williams and Samuels haven't played in the last two weeks, and they've been missed as San Francisco has been held to 17 points in each of the last three weeks.
Still, the 49ers were in position to win two of those games. Purdy drove the 49ers down the field to set up rookie Jake Moody for a potential game-winning field goal in Cleveland from 41 yards, which he missed.
San Francisco may have won on "Monday Night Football" in Minnesota had defensive coordinator Steve Wilks not called an all-out blitz to end the first half, resulting in a long Jordan Addison touchdown.
The 49ers were the league's top defense in 2022, but they've been surprisingly beatable in the last two games. Kirk Cousins carved up the 49ers with 378 passing yards in Week 7. Joe Burrow set a Bengals' single-game completion percentage record on Sunday (87.5%) aided by a string of 19 straight completions to end the first half.
San Francisco has allowed at least 400 total yards in back-to-back games and the highest completion rate in a two-game span in team history (82%). That problem has been addressed by acquiring Chase Young for a third-round pick.
Kyle Shanahan said after Sunday's loss, "We've got to get better at every aspect."
So to answer the question, do the 49ers have a Purdy problem? I think he's off the hook, for now. His concussion, injuries to star players, bad kicking, bad defense and a really bad defensive play call lend itself to a wait-and-see approach.
It's not quite panic time in San Francisco, but it's getting close -- and there's a heightened awareness around Purdy's recent struggles.
What happens when Purdy faces adversity in the playoffs (should the 49ers get there)? Last year's NFC Championship game proved that Murphy's law is still in play: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
There's likely going to be a time when Purdy doesn't have his full complement of weapons or the team isn't clicking on all cylinders and they'll need him to bail them out. That's what champions do, and that's the goal in San Francisco.
For now, the Week 9 bye comes at a perfect time for the 49ers, who have rebounded well from the bye in the last two seasons. Williams and Samuel can get healthy, and the 49ers defense can rebound with the addition of Young.
Purdy could have ample opportunity to reverse these trends after the bye as San Francisco has road games against three first-place teams, the Jaguars (6-2), Seahawks (5-2) and Eagles (7-1), in their next four games overall.
All eyes will be on how Purdy bounces back in those games. The jury is still out, but a case is building against him in late, close situations.