SANTA CLARA – Rookie quarterback Brock Purdy got up from his chair in the corner of the San Francisco 49ers locker room getting ready for the first post-game press conference of his career.
He adjusted his jean ever so slightly, checked the collar of his dark, printed button-down shirt and began to walk toward the auditorium to speak. There was no smile on his face or hint of being overwhelmed. As a reporter looked at him and said, “Congratulations,” Purdy just said thank you in the straightest tone of voice possible.
For a man who carries the annual Mr. Irrelevant title as the last pick of the NFL Draft, Purdy sure acts like a man who belongs.
For the 49ers, that may be all they need the rest of the way. Purdy entered the game on the second drive after starter Jimmy Garoppolo was knocked out for the season with a broken foot during a 33-17 victory over Miami on Sunday. While that information may sound devastating to the hopes of the 49ers, you didn’t get that sense from the 49ers defensive players.
Specifically, the starters who face Purdy during scout team work didn’t seem fazed. The Purdy they know is a guy with swag. The seventh-round guy who isn’t afraid to throw any pass, even if it doesn’t work.
“I saw it in the first week he was here,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “He came in and really understood the process of making a team and how to play. You see it in practice. We go against him in Red Zone on Friday and that’s full speed. That’s competitive and he’s right there going against the best defense in the league.”
Warner then recounted how Purdy tried a couple of throws against him on Friday before the Dolphins game. Warner got the best of Purdy and yelled a couple of times at him to emphasize the point. Purdy didn’t cower in fear.
“He just laughed, that’s why I know he belongs. He won’t be afraid to try me again,” said Warner, who helped lead a 49ers defense that defrocked Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa.
Tagovailoa came into this game with people talking about his chances to win the Most Valuable Player award. He and the Dolphins left with serious questions about whether he’s ready to take on serious playoff contenders. Tagovailoa completed 18 of 33 passes, was intercepted twice, fumbled once and was sacked three times. The fumble came in the fourth quarter and led to a defensive score that sealed the game.
As important as the Tagovailoa discussion is to the grand scheme of the league, Purdy is the story of the week and moving forward because the 49ers still have a defense capable of winning a title. They also have enough offensive weapons in Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk to be interesting.
But can they also have to depend on a rookie quarterback who looks more like a kicker, but plays like he has the confidence of The Rock. Or as a couple of players laughingly referred to him, he’s “Big C—k Brock.”
“I told him when he came in, don’t let that Mr. Irrelevant stuff define who you are,” linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair said. “You make your own legacy.”
Al-Shaair was one of the first players who really understood just how highly the team thought of Purdy. Toward the end of training camp, coach Kyle Shanahan called in the leaders of the team and told them that the team was probably going to let go of veteran backup Nate Sudfeld because Purdy had outplayed Sudfeld.
“And Sudfeld is a heck of a player for a rookie to come in like that and beat him out,” Al-Shaair said.
As for how Purdy actually played, it wasn’t off-the-charts special. At the same time, it didn’t have to be. While he was late on a early deep throw down the middle to Samuel, resulting in an incompletion, he threaded a critical third-down pass to Samuel between two defenders in the fourth quarter.
Moreover, Purdy came to the line of scrimmage in obvious command of what he was supposed to do at the line. Where Garoppolo has many times forgotten a play call from the huddle to the line of scrimmage, Purdy was barking commands with confidence.
“He has a real command, a swag about him,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “That speaks to his experience. He was a four-year starter at Iowa State. He has played a lot of football.”
And, as everyone emphasized, Purdy doesn’t have to be a star. This is not Kurt Warner coming out of the Iowa cornfields to lead the Greatest Show on Turf. This is a guy trying to make sure he doesn’t screw up a good team, get the 49ers to the playoffs and see what happens in a conference where the best quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers) are on wounded teams.
If that’s all the 49ers need, Purdy may be enough…. Certainly for now.