Still wonder if Brock Purdy is for real? 49ers QB gives emphatic answer against Steelers

Still wonder if Brock Purdy is for real? 49ers QB gives emphatic answer against Steelers

It was six months ago that 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy underwent UCL surgery on his right elbow.

If you were of the belief that the injury and the unlikely nature of his rookie season would turn the Purdy story into a pumpkin in 2023, notice was served Sunday the best is yet to come.

That’s how good Purdy was in a dominant 30-7 road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rather than worry about whether Purdy is a product of a system and superior teammates, it’s an even arrangement.

Yes, Purdy gets a lot of help from his supporting cast. But it’s also true he makes that supporting cast better.

At this point, who else would you want at quarterback? Not Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance. Not Sam Darnold, who took victory formation snaps at the end of a one-sided win. Not even Kirk Cousins, whose name came up again this week when The Athletic reported that Mike Shanahan said his son Kyle wanted to trade the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft for a quarterback who has long been the apple of his eye.

The Cousins ship has sailed. Kyle Shanahan has the quarterback he always wanted. Purdy executes with his arm and creates with his feet and is willing to take a chance while at the same time being mostly safe with the ball.

“Purdy shut some haters up,” defensive end Nick Bosa told reporters after the win. “It’s nice to be on a real good team.”

Which illustrates the Purdy experience as a chicken-and-egg conundrum. Is it the 49ers who make Purdy special or is it Purdy who makes them special?

How about both?

“He’s done everything he can to come back and he handles the pressure well and he really doesn’t change,” Shanahan said. “I think that’s why the guys love him and he’ll continue to get better.”

Purdy completed 19 of 29 passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions with scoring passes of 9 and 19 yards to Brandon Aiyuk. He wasn’t perfect, as an early pass forced to George Kittle was nearly intercepted by Patrick Peterson, who during the week claimed to have a “tell” as to where Purdy was going with the ball.

Peterson wound up being the victim of both Aiyuk touchdowns.

The elbow injury that aborted the 49ers’ season in the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia is in the rear-view mirror. The fact that Purdy was drafted in the seventh round with the final pick in the draft is now deemed irrelevant, as is his former nickname of “Mr. Irrelevant.”

Whether it’s a mystical “force” that former 49ers great Steve Young is constantly talking about on the radio or just a knack for the position, it’s obvious Purdy’s effectiveness is greater than the sum of his physical parts.

NFL+ // https://t.co/KTh0i4nCVJ pic.twitter.com/EIVzOExcls

— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) September 10, 2023

Purdy is part facilitator, part playmaker and very much a leader. The fire he shows on the field after big plays is belied by his modest and low-key persona when dealing with the media. He conceded with a smile the second touchdown pass to Aiyuk on Peterson “felt good” but gave the veteran corner his due.

As for thinking back to the surgery and how far he’s come, Purdy put all that aside in late July.

“I think more in camp I felt like that,” Purdy said. “Right there in the moment, it was more, ‘This is what we’re supposed to do, this is what we expect out of ourselves. Once we scored (the first) touchdown, I wasn’t thinking surgery or anything like that. It was ‘Man, we’re here to win. This is how we’re going to play.’ That’s where I was at mentally.”

On the 49ers’ opening drive, Shanahan trusted Purdy enough to go for a first down on fourth-and-1 on the Pittsburgh 45 and have him throw the ball rather than call a running play. Purdy led Kittle perfectly for an 11-yard gain, the key play in a 54-yard touchdown drive which set the tone for the game.

It was the kind of touch pass Lance never mastered, and one that’s key to Shanahan’s offense.

“We needed one yard, hit George in the flat, make him get a couple more yards and he did exactly that,” Purdy said. “It was exactly how we called it and planned it.”

And while Purdy isn’t going to light up a radar gun, velocity and the over-coveted “arm talent” aren’t nearly as important as finding alternate receivers, maneuvering calmly and confidently in the pocket and finding open targets. In his second season, Purdy is already one of the best in the NFL in those areas.

The second touchdown pass to Aiuyk demonstrated the judgment Purdy had to have in a split second to give his receiver the best chance.

“If B.A. beat him off the line, pretty bad then put it in front of him,” Purdy said. “If not and he’s got some contact, then give him an opportunity on the back shoulder. That’s sort of how it went and what I did.”

It’s to the point where the whole “Is Brock Purdy for real” question is amusing some of his teammates.

Christian McCaffrey, who rushed for 152 yards against the Steelers, explained his feelings Friday.

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“Hell of a player. Hell of a leader,” McCaffrey said. “He’s a guy that’s going to be great in this league for a long time. I’m not a quarterback and I don’t know what people are reading. All I know is when he’s got the ball, he looks as confident as ever, knows exactly where to go with it and he plays beyond X’s and O’s.”

Asked to elaborate on saying that Purdy “shut up some haters,” Bosa said, “I think whenever a guy comes back from an injury people don’t expect him to make another leap in the second year. I’m just happy for him. He’s exactly what we thought he was.”

Purdy may not be the ultimate quarterback, but as a point guard, the Steelers discovered just how good he really is.