McCaffrey and defense key to Purdy-led 49ers holding off fast-finishing Brady

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Having helped the San Francisco 49ers past the Miami Dolphins after stepping in for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo, rookie quarterback Brock Purdy faces the considerable challenge of beating Tom Brady in his first start.

With Garoppolo described as having a "way outside chance" of returning for the playoffs after breaking his foot, the 8-4 Niners' Super Bowl hopes rest in part on the shoulders of a seventh-round pick, who was taken with the final selection of the 2022 draft.

The historical omens for a San Francisco victory in Purdy's first start are very good.

The Buccaneers have a 3-12 (.250) all-time record on the road against the 49ers. Among those with at least five all-time road games versus the Niners, no team has a worse record there than Tampa Bay.

San Francisco's prospects of improving their already extremely impressive home record against Brady, playing on the road against the Niners for only the second time his glittering career, hinge not only on Purdy, but also a stacked cast of offensive weapons and the NFL's best defense.

Arguably the leading light among those weapons is a player they only acquired in October.

Running back Christian McCaffrey made his first start for the Niners following his trade from the Carolina Panthers in a Week 8 win over the Los Angeles Rams.

Since that first start, McCaffrey has 67 rushes for 269 yards and 31 catches for 258 yards.

He is one of two NFL players over that span with 60+ rushes and 30+ receptions (Rhamondre Stevenson being the other).

McCaffrey will likely continue to see a significant number of touches as the primary safety net for Purdy, who will also have significant support from a defense that forced four turnovers against one of the NFL's most explosive offenses in the win over Miami.

The 49ers prevailed 33-17 in that Week 13 clash. They have won five straight games while holding opponents to 17 or fewer points in each contest. It is the fourth such streak in team history, and the first since a six-game streak in the 1992 season.

With Tampa Bay averaging just 18.1 points per game, the 49ers should be confident of limiting Brady and Co.

Even if they do so, they may still need Purdy to ensure the game is not close in the fourth quarter, Brady having led the Bucs back from a 13-point deficit in the final period against the New Orleans Saints on Monday.

Brady has thrown nine of his 16 touchdowns (56.3 per cent) in the fourth quarter this season. Among 27 quarterbacks with at least 10 passing touchdowns this season, Brady is the only one with at least half of his touchdowns coming in the final frame.