When the 49ers’ starting quarterback, Trey Lance, suffered a season-ending injury in the season’s second game, did you foresee San Francisco being the NFC’s top team in January?
Did you imagine the top seed in the playoffs was possible for the Niners when their backup quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, was lost with a season-ending injury of his own in Week 13?
Did you think the Niners could skip a round of the playoffs altogether when the team and its third quarterback, Brock Purdy, were down 10 points in the second half of a no-good, very bad game in Las Vegas Sunday?
What about when, in a tie game with 27 seconds remaining and the Niners trying to gain prime field-goal position, Purdy threw up a pass to no one, in particular?
Or when, after that wild pass found Brandon Aiyuk, Robbie Gould missed a game-winning field goal as time expired in regulation?
How about when the Raiders — who accrued 500 yards Sunday against what was supposed to be the NFL’s best defense — had the ball to start overtime?
Did you believe the Niners could end the regular season as the NFC’s best team in any of those moments?
Whether you did or you didn’t, you have to believe now.
With a 37-34 overtime win in Las Vegas Sunday, the Niners are now one win and one Philadelphia Eagles loss away from taking the top seed in the NFC playoffs, which would provide them a bye week and home-field advantage throughout the tournament.
Not bad for a team on its third quarterback.
There have been countless reasons why this 49ers season should have gone off the rails — the quarterback shuffle chief among them. But they have pushed through, putting them in this enviable position.
Sunday was the 49ers’ ninth straight win. It took a bit of luck to reach that number.
Not just luck in finding a quality, possible franchise-caliber quarterback with the final pick in the NFL Draft and deep on their bench, but also in the games themselves.
To be fair to the Raiders (I’ve done it on occasion), the 49ers had little business winning Sunday’s game. San Francisco’s defense and special teams were poor.
The Niners won because they had Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Purdy on offense, and that little bit of luck on their side.
The luck was found in Purdy’s final throw of the game — that destination-unknown 11-yard completion to Aiyuk — and in Tashaun Gipson’s overtime interception, forced by a Nick Bosa bull rush. Raiders quarterback Jarrett Stidham had a wonderful game, but he threw away the game there.
The combination of offense and good fortune was enough to get the Niners (12-4) out of the desert alive for the No. 1 seed.
But even if the Eagles (13-3) don’t lose next week, the 49ers have put themselves in the No. 2 seed thanks to the Vikings (12-4) loss to the Packers on Sunday. San Francisco holds a tiebreaker with the Vikings because of its superior intra-conference record (10-2).
And more importantly, they found out that the team’s young, one-time third-string quarterback — the kid more likely to be mistaken for a ballboy than a player — still has his now-trademark moxie, even when playing from behind.
Going into Sunday’s game, Purdy had trailed on the scoreboard for less than five minutes as a playing professional. Those four-plus minutes were all he needed to give the Niners the lead. He had yet to trail as the team’s starter.
That changed Sunday. The Niners fell behind by 10 points in the third quarter — it had more to do with San Francisco’s porous defense than Purdy — and even after the Niners rattled off three straight scores to turn a 24-14 game into a 27-24 San Francisco lead, the Raiders and Niners went back and forth.
The Raiders tied the game twice in the fourth quarter at 27-all and 34-all.
Purdy wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t flinch under the pressure of the moment. He kept pushing the ball down the field, shaking off mistakes and countering them with big-time throws to the team’s prodigious playmakers.
Purdy’s unflappable performance answered one of the only remaining Niners questions. Yes, it’s just one game against an inferior opponent, but it could be a wonderful harbinger for what the Niners’ can expect from Purdy when the postseason begins — be that the wild-card round as a No. 2 or 3 seed or in the divisional round as the No. 1.
“It’s great to have those games,” McCaffrey said. “You have to answer scores with scores to win in this league.”
“What Brock’s doing is real,” Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He’s a talented guy who is very tough. When he does make a mistake, he understands why and tries to learn from them.
He doesn’t have a ton of experience in this league, so every time he goes out there — whether it’s good or bad — when you have the skillset and you play the game the right way, he’s going to get better from it.”
After that game, with Purdy coming through in the clutch, there’s just one question left for the Niners this regular season: how high can they go?
Seeding will be determined by the team’s play next weekend against a down-and-out Cardinals team and whatever happens in the Eagles-Giants game.
The Niners should beat the Cardinals, who were down to their fourth quarterback of the season in a Week 17 loss.
And if the Niners still have a bit of luck, the Eagles will drop that final regular-season game, giving them the top spot.
Yes, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
But you know what’s even better?
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