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The Brock Purdy fairy tale of going from the NFL Draft’s Mr. Irrelevant to the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback is already great drama. Now we can add history to the plot as an antagonist.
That’s because no rookie quarterback has ever started a Super Bowl. No NFL quarterback who became a starter after Thanksgiving has ever started a Super Bowl. And no rookie starting his first game has ever beaten Tom Brady.
And yet here is Purdy, starting his first game for the 49ers on Sunday against Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here is the last player selected in the 2022 draft, earning the Mr. Irrelevant moniker, thrust into this role because the 49ers have lost not one but two quarterbacks to injuries.
And despite all this, somehow Purdy has the 49ers believing in him. And the 49ers still have their Super Bowl aspirations intact.
How does this happen?
Brock Purdy Quickly Earned Respect
Start with Purdy, who began the season as the No. 3 quarterback behind Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo. Two weeks ago he was the scout team quarterback getting little action with starters even in practice.
Tight end George Kittle estimated Purdy got maybe four reps with the starting offense all season. As the scout team QB Purdy’s job was to imitate the opposing quarterback — so Kyler Murray or Patrick Mahomes.
And even in that role, Purdy earned his team’s respect.
“We played a lot of moving, athletic quarterbacks this year and Brock did a really good job of giving us some looks of extending plays and creating, throwing the ball downfield,” 49ers’ defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “He even threw no-look passes when we needed him to.”
The assignment is different now since Purdy replaced an injured Garoppolo against the Miami Dolphins last Sunday.
It’s not about Purdy becoming a star.
It’s about him leaning on the stars.
“I think the biggest thing is seeing, like, the older guys, the veterans of the team, just come up to me and tell me like, ‘Hey, we got you.’ And even the guys on defense, they’re, ‘Do your thing on offense, we’re going to hold it down and do our part,'” Purdy told reporters during the week.
Purdy added that his teammates on offense — Christian McCaffrey, Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and Trent Williams among them — have offered their support as well.
“All those guys, they’re like, ‘Man, we got you. We’re not just going to throw you out there and leave you out there by yourself,'” Purdy said. “They all got my back and I think that’s just been the coolest part about it, knowing that I’m not alone in this whole thing.”
Purdy is a few weeks shy of his 23rd birthday. He was born four months before Brady was picked in the sixth round of the 2000 draft.
But like Brady, who took the reins in New England unexpectedly, Purdy is grabbing his shot leading the 49ers.
“I won’t throw anyone under the bus, but he did yell at somebody in the huddle for talking yesterday, and I was laughing so hard,” Kittle said. “I was, like, ‘Dude, quiet man. The quarterback is talking.'”
Brock Purdy Now Leading 49ers
The stories of Purdy taking over and demanding attention made the rounds in San Francisco last week.
“Brock’s got a good edge to him,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He’s quiet, but I think he’s more respectful just being the younger guy in the room. You can tell how the rookies gravitate to him. He’s got good command over them. Our scout team from [LB] Fred [Warner] and all those guys, they love him.
“He’s aggressive over there. He is not shy in anything he does, but he’s fit in with our team well and he’s understood his role and now it’s gotten a lot bigger.”
The 49ers have shown confidence in Purdy and in what they might still accomplish, even with the rookie. Maybe that’s because this team is stacked.
The defense leads the NFL in fewest points allowed, yielding 15.8 per game. Defensive end Nick Bosa has 14.5 sacks and is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. The defense has also allowed the fewest points after turnovers, a total of only nine this season.
Opponents average just 283 total yards per game against the San Francisco defense, the lowest in the NFL. And the 49ers have the NFL’s best run defense, allowing 75.6 yards per game.
49ers Believe Season Not Derailed
The San Francisco offense is no less scary. Kittle is finally healthy. Trent Williams is perhaps the best left tackle in football. Samuel remains one of the most versatile receivers in the league.
And McCaffrey, acquired at the trade deadline, is averaging 98.5 total yards per game. That includes his first outing, in which he played limited snaps because he had arrived from Carolina only days earlier.
So rather than change everything about what has become a winning formula, the Niners are approaching the season’s final month almost as if Garoppolo were still playing.
“We’re trying not to make it a drastic change,” Shanahan said. “They have a similar skillset, we have a lot of confidence in Brock. We’ve seen him in practice. Our players have, we have and that’s why we were confident in him.
“But he hasn’t played a ton of football, so there is some unknown out there, but we know he has the ability to do it. We know he has the mentality to do it and I don’t like how we got to this point, but we’re definitely excited about the option that we have.”