Friday, Feb. 9, 2024 | 2 a.m.
One of the latest of about 1,000 heaps of praise 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has showered on quarterback Brock Purdy this season also turned into a commendation of the Raiders Monday at Super Bowl Opening Night.
Shanahan was explaining how he knew Purdy was the right guy to direct his offense long-term when it hit him that he was sitting on a podium on top of a field where the second-year player had proven it. The coach then harkened back to the 49ers’ game against the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium two years ago, when the home team built a surprising 10-point lead in the third quarter.
Las Vegas’ upset bid ultimately fell short when Purdy locked in and looked nearly perfect to lead San Francisco to a comeback victory.
“He went through every situation possible,” Shanahan said. “We went to overtime here and he brought us back. What he did wasn’t a fluke.”
In hindsight, what the Raiders did in holding Purdy and the 49ers’ offense at bay for much of the game wasn’t a fluke either. They built on it in August when the 49ers visited Raiders’ team headquarters for a pair of joint practices, and the latter gave the former all it could handle including intercepting Purdy three times.
It might be obscured because of the way the 49ers hobbled their way to Las Vegas for Super Bowl 58 — with a pair of comeback, three-point victories in the NFC playoffs — but not many teams have made them look as human as the Raiders over the last two seasons. In 27 games where Purdy has taken the majority of the snaps, San Francisco has outscored opponents by an average of nearly 12 points per game — by far the highest scoring margin in the NFL during the span.
The way the Raiders put a scare into the 49ers at the end of the 2022-2023 season might have been one of the first signs of the potential they showed late this year under now permanent coach Antonio Pierce. It’s hard to put too much into early-season practices when Purdy was coming back from elbow surgery and teams were installing their full playbooks, but the way Raiders fared surely was impressive juxtaposed with how the 49ers started the season.
While Purdy barely completed half of his passes against the Raiders, he tore up three playoff teams for nearly nine yards per attempt with six total touchdowns to no interceptions in the first month of the regular season.
The Raiders are getting a fair amount of hype because of the way they ended the season with victories in three of four games and an overall 5-4 record under Pierce. But almost nothing should give fans of the silver and black more confidence than the way their team performed against the two sides facing off for the Lombardi Trophy at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.
Limiting the 49ers on a couple occasions should be uplifting in its own right, but the Raiders’ crown jewel under Pierce so far was the way they suffocated the Chiefs on the road in a 20-14 Christmas Day victory.
Kansas City hasn’t lost since, going on a five-game winning streak that claimed the Super Bowl hopes of the two AFC favorites (Baltimore and Buffalo) in front of their home fans.
“Everybody had to look in the mirror, coaches and players, and (getting to the Super Bowl) actually started with the Raiders,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “The Raiders came back to our place and got after us. We all had to step back and see what we were doing, do whatever we needed to do to get better.”
The Chiefs’ takeover of the Raiders’ practice facility in Henderson and their home locker room at Allegiant Stadium this week in preparation for the Super Bowl has rankled the local fan base if not some within the organization.
But Kansas City has at least outwardly been a gracious guest.
Reid went out of his way to express admiration for the Raiders’ organization and vow Pierce, “will do a phenomenal job,” at the helm. The way he and his players recount the Christmas Day loss remains the greatest endorsement, though.
Several Chiefs, everyone from star rookie receiver Rashee Rice to veteran linebacker Drue Tranquill, described the Raiders as more physical and better-focused in their most recent showdown.
“They played us tough,” Tranquill said. “They exposed some weaknesses and forced us to take a look at ourselves.”
No one involved on either team playing in the Super Bowl knows the Raiders better than 49ers edge rusher Clelin Ferrell. The Raiders’ No. 4 overall pick from the 2019 NFL Draft just left the franchise for the 49ers this offseason at the expiration of his rookie contract.
Ferrell started in the 49ers’ first 16 games before being carted off the field with a knee injury in a Week 17 win over the Washington Commanders and eventually getting added to injured reserve. San Francisco’s defensive efficiency numbers have dipped without him on the field, but Ferrell brushed off those statistics and expressed confidence in his teammates going into the Super Bowl.
He also raved just as much about his former Raider teammates, a group he still refers to as, “brothers.” When Ferrell wasn’t playing or watching tape of the 49ers’ upcoming opponents this season, he was tuned into the Raiders.
“I watched every game,” Ferrell said. “Those are my guys. Maxx (Crosby) and, shoot, I can’t even put it into words what it meant (watching the Raiders come on late in the season). I just have so much respect for the guys in the locker room…They just put their head down and they just believed in this team.”
Ferrell, who’s set to be a free agent again this offseason, has big expectations for the Raiders next year and he may not be the only one. He shouldn’t be the only one if the Raiders are judged based on what they did against the teams squaring off for the championship this year.
Super Bowl 58 is no Cinderella matchup with the best team for most of the past season (the 49ers) squaring off against a franchise with eyes on building one of the best dynasties in NFL history (the Chiefs).
The Raiders showed they can play with both teams, and that means they should be able to play with any team.
“The Raider game that we lost,” Reid said, “that was the one that turned our season around.”