Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports
It was an all-out slugfest between two of the best defenses in the National Football League, the San Francisco 49ers (5-1) and the Cleveland Browns (3-2). The Browns handed the Niners their first loss of the season 19-17 in what was a dogfight to score points, which was expected between the Niners who came into the game only allowing 68 points scored on them through the first five games of the season, with the Browns allowing just 60 before Sunday's game.
There was a lot of tension prior to the game with a pregame scuffle between Niners receiver Deebo Samuels and some of the Browns players that caused some tempers to flare.
The Niners got off the ground running on their first drive where they crossed the field in five plays for 84 yards with most of those coming from All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey who’s having an MVP-caliber season.
McCaffrey would eventually be sidelined later in the game with an oblique injury that hopefully won’t keep him out too long, as he is the Niners' most valuable weapon.
He finished the game with 11 carries and 43 yards but also had three receptions for nine yards that included that opening touchdown to put the Niners on board.
There were a lot of penalties throughout the game from the McCaffrey face mask call on the Browns to a holding call on one of the Browns' offensive linemen that cost them a touchdown to potentially tie the game on their opening offensive drive.
The Niners would go up 10-0 on the Browns who were playing with their second-string quarterback Phillip Walker, who was called up from the practice squad with their franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson (shoulder) still being sidelined.
The Niners took a 10-0 lead after a 25-yard field goal from rookie kicker Jake Moody who redeemed himself for a missed kick earlier.
Moments later Browns running back Kareem Hunt got the Browns on the scoreboard with a 16-yard touchdown run with the extra point good by Browns kicker Dustin Hopkins to make it 10-7 with the Niners up heading into the half.
In the second half, the Browns tried utilizing an RPO formation (Run Pass Option) that’s highly popular in the NFL as well as a sweep pass to running back Jerome Ford the next play but failed to convert in the endzone.
They settled for the field goal to tie the game 10-10.
Could the Niners respond now after being up 10-0 and allowing the Browns, who are challenged offensively, to come back?
The answer was no. Niners quarterback Brock Purdy threw an interception on a big 3rd & 11 play at the 10:08 mark of the third, something we haven’t seen him do this season up to that point which cost them a chance to go back up in the game.
The Browns took their first lead of the game off a 42-yard Hopkins field goal with 2:59 left to go in the game to make it 13-10. Both teams had elite defensive pressure showing why they are the two best defensive teams in the league.
Each play suffocates the opposing team's best quarterback with little room for error and nearly impossible to get a slither of space to get a good look.
Both teams were their worst enemies with many self-inflicted penalties with the Niners having 12 that cost them 105 yards and the Browns having 13 that cost them 119 yards.
Walker threw another interception caught by Niners corner Deommodore Lenoir, with the first coming by Fred Warner in the first half.
Lenoir’s interception run helped the Niners get inside the Browns 10-yard line resulting in a Jordan Mason touchdown to help put the Niners back in front 17-13.
The Browns struggled all game on 3rd down efficiency (3/13) but were able to land a big one on a 3rd & 11 play midway through the fourth.
The Browns were going against a Niners defense in a cover-two formation on a critical drive where they found former Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper off a slant route that got them a first down and closer within goal range.
The Niners' defense would come up big led by All-Pro defensive end Nick Bosa who had a huge sack on Walker to force the Browns to settle for a field goal to make it 17-16 with 3:21 left to play.
Purdy had a grounding penalty due to the onslaught that was the Browns' defensive frontline which forced him to throw an inadequate pass.
The Browns would get a new set of downs multiple times on their next offensive drive due to penalties from Niners safety Tashaun Gipson for unnecessary roughness and Chavarius Ward for holding Cooper.
Browns running back Jerome Ford came up big when his team needed him with a big 22-yard gain for the Browns that put them inside the Niners 15 at the two-minute warning.
The Niners were on the cusp of potentially losing their first game… And that’s what the Browns did. Despite not getting into the endzone they converted on a 29-yard field goal from Hopkins that gave them a 19-17 lead.
Purdy and the Niners had one more go at it to try to miraculously win the game without McCaffrey (oblique) and Samuels (shoulder) at this point in the game.
The Browns' defense proved to be too much in man coverage since the Niners were without their primary receiver in Samuels. The Niners had a chance at a field goal to win the game but Moody missed the go-ahead game-winning field goal as the Browns handed the Niners their first loss of the season.
This is an impressive victory for the Browns as they did this without their starting quarterback against a top-two team in the NFL and a Super Bowl-level defense in the Niners.
The Niners are hoping Samuels and McCaffrey are able to come back from their injuries as soon as possible as they are favorites to make it to the Super Bowl out of the NFC.