A year of action has culminated in another Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. Let’s start Four Verts by taking the high road on the “game manager” shouting match involving Brock Purdy before taking a look back on a heartbreaking loss — courtesy of Purdy and his Niners — for America’s darling in the playoffs.
The Purdy arguments are irrelevant right now. The 49ers can clearly win with him
Brock Purdy has been the subject of praise and criticism as the debate of exactly how good he is continues to tear apart the internet, families and treasured friendships. I am here to tell you that the best side to take in the Purdy debate, for now, is one of complete indifference. It doesn’t matter if he’s the best or worst quarterback in the world. The only thing that matters is that the 49ers can absolutely win the Super Bowl with Purdy as their quarterback — partly due to him, partly due to the surrounding pieces.
Purdy hasn’t played his best football during the 49ers’ current playoff run. He has been sloppy with the ball, has a handful of near-turnovers and some of his limitations as a passer have come to light — but the 49ers keep on winning.
Christian McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel continue to earn their status as the NFL’s best supporting cast and head coach Kyle Shanahan continues to put the group into advantageous situations. Sometimes a team this talented and prepared needs the quarterback to just ride along, which Purdy has done for the majority of this postseason.
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At times, Purdy has stepped up and provided a spark for the 49ers when needed. He was excellent on the game-winning drive against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC’s divisional round. He made some crucial plays in the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game to punch the Niners’ ticket to the Super Bowl. He has done just enough to overcome the mistakes he’s made and lead the 49ers back to the Super Bowl for the second time in the Shanahan era. They can obviously beat the Chiefs with him under center.
There’s still another season that needs to be played out before the 49ers have to really think about what they’re going to pay Purdy to have him be their long-term quarterback. Let’s stay in the now and understand that this 49ers team is so damn good that San Francisco can survive some of the young quarterback mistakes that come with a second-year starter.
That’s the real story of this 49ers season. Not a hyper-focused conversation around Purdy and his abilities. This team is so good that it can balance itself through the development of a young QB and still reach the Super Bowl against some of the NFL’s best teams. Everything else is noise until it’s time for Purdy and the 49ers to start negotiating a deal.
Don’t change, Dan Campbell
Dan Campbell, you’re still a hero.
Despite waves of criticism coming in his direction for an aggressive approach in the NFC championship game, Campbell shouldn’t change how he conducts business on the field. Having trust in his players is ultimately a good thing, and it still allows a lot of opportunities for the Lions to pour the points on and sustain long drives that other teams are unwilling to take. Even though the Lions’ strategy and aggressiveness didn’t pay off, there’s no need for Campbell to change his ways amidst an outpouring of criticism for going for it on fourth down.
A fair amount of criticism for Campbell’s decision, for whatever reason, treats a field-goal attempt as an automatic three points, even though NFL kickers miss all the time in high-leverage situations. Michael Badgley has been anything but consistent for the Lions, particularly from longer distances, which is an added layer of why the Lions were so aggressive trying to keep their offense on the field to take big hacks against the 49ers. A shaky kicker or an offense filled with some of the best players in the NFL? It’s not a totally indefensible position unless someone’s opinion is heavily influenced by survivorship bias.
There’s also the fact that the Lions’ defense couldn’t buy a stop in the second half. Detroit was put in some bad spots, particularly following a fumble from Jahmyr Gibbs and an untimely whiff by defensive back Kindle Vildor that allowed Brandon Aiyuk to make a back-breaking catch to set up another 49ers touchdown. Those plays arguably had a bigger hand in losing than any of Campbell’s fourth-down decisions. They might not have even needed to go for it at all if they made some better efforts within the field of play. It was just one of those games.
Campbell isn’t a slave to the “analytics” or doing these things in a vacuum that ignores the players he’s going to battle with — that’s just a blame-game tactic for people who don’t want to take the time to figure out how data is incorporated into a game plan. He’s taking the time to figure out how to piece together an optimal plan including everything. From down and distance, to how reliable a kicker is, to implicit trust in his guys. All of it comes into play. The Lions just didn’t get enough done to get across the finish line.
Sometimes, things don’t turn out how people want them to be. A whole lot of people became emotionally invested in the Lions winning because of how poorly the past dozens of years have gone for the team. Still, it’s better to take the path of what got them to the NFC championship game instead of flipping the script out of nowhere.
Don’t change, Dan. Sometimes, it’s just not your day — but the overall process is going to be OK in the long run.
Baltimore is about to suffer the curse of competency
Oh, Ravens. So close. Sooooo close. After boasting the best team in football all season, they fell short once again and had to watch the Chiefs make their fourth Super Bowl in the past five seasons. For their own expectations, they fell short of what they set out to accomplish, and the failure will live with them for a good while. For the vast majority of the league, the Ravens put together an operation that dwarfs the standards of the everyday NFL team. Most teams dream of having an MVP quarterback with a face-eating defense, which means those teams are now going to try and raid the Ravens cupboard — particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald is already on his way out the door to take the Seahawks’ head-coaching job. The Ravens’ defense spent the entire season shutting down opposing offenses, including holding the Chiefs to zero points in the second half of the AFC championship game. In a league where offenses are as potent and well-schemed as ever, true masterminds like Macdonald are going to be a hot commodity. Unfortunately for the Ravens, their success with Macdonald means they lost him.
That extends to assistant coaches and guys in the front office as well. Linebackers coach Zach Orr is interviewing for the Packers defensive coordinator job. Pass game coordinator Chris Hewitt and associate head coach Anthony Weaver have interviewed for openings as well. Director of player personnel Joe Hortiz took over as the Chargers general manager and now that Macdonald has accepted a head-coaching gig, it should be assumed that a handful of their defensive assistants will follow him he tries to recreate the success that he had in Baltimore.
Not all is lost in Baltimore during this time of transition, even though the team does have a litany of free agents they have to tend to. Lamar Jackson is still under center and one of the truly elite quarterbacks in football, even if his last game was up-and-down. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken will be back for continuity on that side of the ball and John Harbaugh will return for his 17th season as head coach. They’ll still have the pieces to go on another run through the AFC next year, even if it’s a somewhat diminished product from the team they just put together.
This is what happens when franchises win — everyone wants a piece of what they have to turn and copy their success. It’ll hurt in the short term, but the Ravens have the organizational structure and history of success that suggests they’ll be able to power through the noise and get back to where they need to be.
Ben Johnson’s choice to stay is risky, but not necessarily dumb
On Tuesday, Lions rockstar offensive coordinator Ben Johnson made the decision to stay away from Washington and Seattle’s head coaching opportunities to return to Detroit on the heels of blowing a 24-7 lead in the NFC championship game. It was somewhat surprising given that it seemed like Johnson was a lock to become the next head coach of the Commanders, but it gives the Lions a big boost as they hit the offseason and get ready to gear up for another run through the playoffs next season. Anytime a coordinator turns down a head coaching job, it can be seen as a risk (and it really is), but just because Johnson is being a bit risky by turning down this opportunity, it doesn’t mean that he’s necessarily flaky or dumb or not a leader of men. It might not have been the right decision for him at this time.
Johnson has a great thing going with the Lions. They have a head coach in Dan Campbell who implicitly trusts his team to execute on the field, no matter the circumstances. The quarterback situation is stable, they’re stocked with playmakers on offense and they have the best offensive line in the league for now. That’s a tough situation to just turn your back on, even if it would have meant a big chunk of change to move onto becoming a head coach in the NFL. All money ain’t good money and Johnson has decided that the money Detroit has is good enough for him.
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There’s also this idea that the current Commanders job is a great job simply because they have new ownership. New ownership doesn’t necessarily mean good ownership — many folks were fawning over David Tepper as well when he bought the Panthers and that has already turned into a level of disaster that will take years to clean up, if they ever get it done. The new ownership group needs to prove themselves in turns of running the team before opinions can be appropriately had on them — simply being Not Dan Snyder isn’t good enough. The Commanders have the second overall pick in what appears to be a quarterback-rich draft at the top, but there’s no guarantee that Drake Maye or Caleb Williams turns out to be a better quarterback than Goff is at this very second. A total rebuild might not have suited Johnson over what he has (plus the reports of Johnson’s asking price being too high).
Not jumping at the opportunity to coach that team is entirely defensible, but it is still a risk on Johnson’s part. Johnson, who is 37 and has a long career ahead of him, should still be in this situation next season if he wants it. However, this is the NFL. Anything can go wrong to the point where Johnson’s stock is diminished at this point next year, leaving him on the outside looking in for a new head coaching opportunity. No one wants to forecast bad things happening to the Lions, but the possibility for that needs to be accounted for.
Johnson’s decision is his alone at the end of the day and ultimately being a sought-after offensive coordinator is still a good life if he truly didn’t see a fit for himself in Washington or Seattle. This is a risk for Johnson, but still has the chance to end up fine and he could be in a position to really line his pockets with cash if he can lead Detroit to a successful offensive season for the third straight year.