SANTA CLARA — Blowing a 10-point lead put an end to the 49ers two previous playoff appearances, the result of fourth-quarter collapses in the 2019 season’s Super Bowl and last year’s NFC Championship Game.
For a change, the 49ers let a 10-0 lead evaporate before halftime of Saturday’s playoff debut, then they rallied to dispatch the Seattle Seahawks 41-23 in their wild-card opener.
A second-half surge allowed the No. 2-seed 49ers (14-4) to recapture the lead, their confidence, and their momentum. They’ll take an 11-game win streak into next weekend’s divisional round, where they’ll host either the No. 2 Minnesota Vikings, the No. 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the No. 5 Dallas Cowboys.
It will be the Vikings if they win Sunday against the No. 6 Giants, coupled with a Bucs win Monday night against the Cowboys. If the Giants win, they’d advance to visit the No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles, thus sending the Bucs-Cowboys winner to Levi’s Stadium, likely next Sunday.
The 49ers won, as expected, in only their third-ever playoff game at Levi’s Stadium, and they won comfortably on the scoreboard like their 2019 team did here twice en route to the Super Bowl.
But Saturday’s scoreboard didn’t define how tense things got, especially as the 49ers humbly and foolishly entered halftime with a 17-16 deficit. The Seahawks had taken that lead – their last one – when Jason Myers booted a 56-yard field goal as the first half expired, set up by a Jimmie Ward penalty for hitting Geno Smith as he slid on a scramble with 1 second to go.
All went the 49ers’ way after that, however. They scored over 30 points for the eighth time in this 11-game win streak, and for the fifth time in Brock Purdy’s six starts.
Purdy, attempting to become the first rookie quarterback to make a Super Bowl, overcame a rocky start. He had over 300 yards with three touchdown passes once the lead reached 38-17 on Deebo Samuel’s 74-yard touchdown catch-and-run with 10:51 remaining.
Purdy finished 18-of-30 for 332 yards with those three touchdowns and no turnovers, with a 131.5 passer rating. It was only the 10th playoff game in the Super Bowl era in which a quarterback produced over 330 passing yards, four touchdowns (passing and rushing) and no interceptions, according to The Associated Press’ Josh Dubow.
Christian McCaffrey ran for 119 yards, and one of his two receptions went for a touchdown. Samuel finished with 133 yards on six receptions, and Brandon Aiyuk added 73 yards on six catches.
This affair turned in the 49ers’ favor once they emerged for the second half and went on a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped by Purdy’s 1-yard sneak for a 23-17 lead.
It was a precarious lead, at least for a few minutes.
Soon, Levi’s Stadium’s video board showed Nick Bosa sitting on the 49ers bench after their biggest defensive play of the game, and he pointed to the man sitting next to him, Charles Omenihu. It was Omenihu who stripped Geno Smith of the ball that Bosa recovered at the 49ers’ 30-yard line, dominating a third-and-14 play and protecting the lead 2:25 until the fourth quarter.
Then the points kept coming, along with some light rain, the latter of which was nothing like the downpour overnight and into Saturday’s morning on the tarped and protected field.
The 49ers’ lead swelled to 31-17 when Purdy magically escaped pressure and threw across the field to Elijah Mitchell for a 7-yard touchdown catch, followed by George Kittle’s two-point conversion grab.
After Samuel’s 74-yard touchdown sprint down the left sideline, Deommodore Lenoir got the ball back for the 49ers with an interception, and the 49ers converted that into Robbie Gould’s fourth field goal in as many attempts; Gould is 25-of-25 for his career in the playoffs.
Prior to that Gould kick that gave them a 41-17 lead, Purdy scrambled 12 seconds and found Brandon Aiyuk for a potential, 13-yard touchdown pass, only to have Aiyuk drop it.
The go-ahead drive that opened the second half featured plenty of big plays: a third-and-1 sneak by Purdy, a 23-yard completion to George Kittle, and a 21-yard catch-and-run by Deebo Samuel. That tackle-breaking play by Samuel got them to the 16-yard line, and when safety Johnathan Abram tugged at Samuel’s once-injured ankle after the play without penalty, it enraged the 49ers.
A cascade of smiles, fist pumps, celebratory poses and successful plays changed the mood. The 49ers had time to recover from their second-quarter slumber, in which the Seahawks scored touchdowns on back-to-back possessions (7-yard run by Kenneth Walker III, 40-yard catch by D.K. Metcalf). Metcalf scored again with 1:48 remaining, but it merely made the Seahawks’ losing score more respectable as they finished their still-surprising season with a 9-9 record.