In what’s become a familiar sight over the years, the Cleveland Browns ordered their brown pants late in an attempt to muck up a win that the defense put them in prime position for against one of the NFL’s final unbeaten teams. But ultimately the San Francisco 49ers matched them with their own stercoraceous decision-making late. Until San Fran’s final possession, Brock Purdy was in an awful slump. However, Mr. Irrelevant managed to put his squad in position for a game-winning field goal, which Jake Moody hooked it wide right.
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This isn’t a call to arms against kickers. Nah. While Moody deserves his fair share of the blame for the first blemish on the Niners 2023 record, Kyle Shanahan should have known better than to let up on the gas with 45 seconds remaining. After picking up the first down with 45 seconds remaining, Purdy handed it off for a three-yard gain and ordered the offense to sit on their hands for more than 30 seconds before spiking it at the 24-yard line.
This ain’t the unmatched authority of 20-20 hindsight speaking The trust coaches have in kickers not named Justin Tucker to drain field goals from outside chip shot range will always baffle me. But football technocrats with boundless experience and maximal expertise have made it their modus operandi to ease up once they cross the 40-yard kick territory. Kyle Shanahan’s decision to settle and set Moody up for a touch kick instead of trying to pick up another first doomed San Francisco. That doesn’t mean lob a jump ball up at the goal line, but giving Purdy a chance to give Moody a more favorable kick would have been the ideal scenario.
Kicking is one of the most difficult repetitive-motion tasks on the planet and the farther away attempts are, the tougher they get. It didn’t help that a Cleveland Brown sped Moody up. But if that kick were a few yards closer, it likely sails through.
In a game of inches, every yard matters. Scared money don’t make money. Purdy struggled for much of the afternoon, but he’d just dialed up a 52-yard drive. The analytics say that 40 yard field goals are most prudent, but the Niners had approximately 45 seconds to push themselves 10 yards closer and a timeout remaining.
Even Justin Tucker misses nearly 20 percent of his kicks from beyond 40 yards. Moody’s esteemed predecessor Robbie Gould is one of the most accurate kickers from 40+ yards in NFL history and even he missed a quarter of his career attempts from beyond. There are piles of analytics that coaches and support staff absorb every week, but common sense should have compelled the Niners to creep a bit closer instead of entrusting a guppie who’s never been tested under pressure in NFL waters.
Moody had already lurched a 54-yarder wide left earlier in the afternoon. Kickers are more susceptible to errors coming in bunches than any other position. I get it, Moody was Shanahan’ third round pick and the highest drafted rookie since Tampa Bay’s Roberto Aguayo Affair. He was highly touted as automatic between 40 and 49 yards, where he drilled 10-of-13 kicks attempts in his final two seasons at Michigan.
However, inside 40 yards, he was nearly an immaculate 38-for-39. The sweet spot for a sure thing appears to be the 30-35 yard yard range for the league-average kickers. This was a learning moment for San Francisco. Purdy only passed for 125 yards and a touchdown, along with his first interception of the season, but he was also in a groove by the end of regulation. Kickers coming out late for clutch kicks invites Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong, likely will. When there’s time left, coaches should trust their offense to squeak out enough yards to actually get into position for a more comfortable gimme kick.
Before struggling today, Purdy resembled an MVP frontrunner, but he did what you’d expect an emerging franchise quarterback to do. Minus Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey, he put the first 57 minutes behind him and imposed his will on Jim Schwartz’s vicious pressure defense. Kickers are last resorts, not easy money. If Purdy is going to be this team’s cornerstone moving forward, they’ve got to entrust him with their fates.
Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebralsportex