Nobody knows anything about the NFL in 2023.
Two weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers were the best team in football. It’s not even a question. There are no warning signs or reason to believe that this is anything but the NFL’s most complete, dominant team.
But like the rest of the league this season, it all changed for no real reason. The 49ers lost as a heavy favorite in Week 6 to the Cleveland Browns with backup PJ Walker at quarterback, then in Week 7 they lost as a heavy favorite again. This time it was the Minnesota Vikings who went 2-4 and took it to 49.
Kirk Cousins, whose poor record on Monday nights has been derided for years, turned in a great performance in a huge 22-17 win in Minneapolis. Brock Purdy had two chances for the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, but came up short both times, throwing a pair of interceptions, including one with 25 seconds left. The win made the Vikings 3-4 on the season.
The 49ers are still one of the best teams in the NFL, but odd back-to-back losses mean they’re as vulnerable as anyone.
Kirk Cousins shines on Monday night
Adding to the inconsistency of the Vikings’ offense on Monday night, its teams went 2-10 on Monday nights led by Cousins. Suddenly Cousins was carving out a respectable 49ers defense, playing without injured superstar receiver Justin Jefferson.
Cousins has been the subject of trade speculation, but the Vikings are far from dead in the NFC at 3-4. He had a great game Monday night, throwing for 378 yards and two touchdowns against a great defense, and did so without one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.
After a strong first half, the Vikings came up big in the final seconds before halftime. Cousins threw a pass that was almost intercepted, but rookie Jordan Addison wrestled it away, turned over the top for a 60-yard touchdown. The Vikings led 16-7 after that.
It was a bad call by 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. With 16 seconds left, the only thing going to hurt the 49ers was a deep pass to send a Cover 0, all-out blitz at the Vikings 40. According to Next Generation StatisticsIt was the first seven-man rush in the final 30 seconds of a half in opposing territory since Week 11, 2020.
The NFL is usually decided by thin margins, and the 49ers gave up a touchdown.
Brock Birdie threw 2 picks
The 49ers were outplayed most of the night, but were in the game in the second half. The Vikings settled for a field goal after two failed attempts on a “dush push” from the 1-yard line and a fumble by Cousins inside the end zone. McCaffrey then scored his second touchdown of the game and the 49ers trailed 19–14.
The 49ers and Vikings traded field goals after that, and the Vikings led 22–17 in the fourth quarter. The 49ers had two shots to win it. But with 5:30 left, Birdie overthrew Javan Jennings and Vikings safety Camryn Bynum picked it off. It’s the kind of error that inflames Purdy’s critics.
San Francisco had one more shot when Vikings kicker Greg Joseph missed a 50-yard field goal with 1:11 left. That could have been Birdie’s redemption. The 49ers drove into Viking territory in the final minute. But Purdy, in a desperate situation, threw another interception to Bynum and the game was over.
Two weeks ago the 49ers were on top of the NFL world. The Vikings were 1-4, lost Jefferson to a hamstring injury and were closer to trading everyone than thinking about the playoffs. Two weeks in the NFL this season will feel like an eternity. More than ever, nothing is permanent.