I’m confused by the non stop bloviating over 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy. Even by the insane standards of the hot-take media industrial complex, the loudest voices raise the volume on these made-up Purdy debates.
This is a Quarterback Nation. The outsized importance of the QB position has been a go-to staple for sportswriters, sportscasters, bloggers, radio talkers and fans during modern times. At a troubling time for the industry, quarterbacks are good for the media business. And Purdy is content. Instant content.
But as a pragmatist, I don’t understand why anyone should be rushing to judgment on Purdy. Including the postseason he’s started 26 games for San Francisco. The team’s combined regular-season and postseason record with Purdy as the No. 1 quarterback is 21-5. And one of the losses – last season’s NFC Championship Game – wasn’t his fault. Purdy suffered a serious elbow injury on his team’s first possession and had no chance to make the throws required to take down a top defense and win at Philadelphia.
Even if I include that setback, the 49ers have an .807 winning percentage with Purdy as their QB1. That includes the postseason. Jimmy Garoppolo – displaced by Purdy during the 2022 season – had a .688 winning percentage in 61 regular-season and postseason games as San Francisco’s starter.
Jimmy G was good.
Purdy has been better.
That’s why coach Kyle Shanahan decided to go with Purdy. And the coach dumped quarterback Trey Lance – the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 draft – to eliminate any uncertainty about the future. And the 49ers sacrificed multiple draft picks to move up to select Lance in ‘21. But when Shanahan had to make another decision, he selected Purdy – the Iowa State quarterback who was the last player chosen in the 2022 draft.
Last offseason, Shanahan made a call to Tom Brady to gauge his interest in ending a brief retirement to join the 49ers. The coach had anxiety over Purdy’s elbow surgery and wasn’t sure if the QB would be ready to go by the start of the 2023 season. Brady said no. But some have viewed the Brady inquiry as a mixed signal, and I guess that makes sense. Shanahan surely didn’t want Brady to come to the Bay Area to serve as Purdy’s backup. But I digress …
This season Purdy led NFL starting quarterbacks in a number of categories including passer rating, EPA, success rate, touchdown percentage and average yards per completion. Sports Info Solutions had Purdy No. 1 for the lowest percentage of “bust” passing plays – and also No. 1 for the percentage of “boom” passing plays.
Purdy was an MVP finalist. He was voted into the Pro Bowl. He’s 2-0 in the current postseason, having led the 49ers to comeback victories over Green Bay and Detroit. Purdy had some gaps in efficiency and steadiness in both games, but made the money plays with San Francisco’s season at stake. Isn’t that we expect out of good quarterbacks? They can shake off the bad stuff and come through with a winning performance under extreme pressure.
“Not a bad system quarterback,” 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk told reporters, sarcastically, after the win over the Lions. “You know, a system quarterback who ran around all day and made plays when we really needed them. He absolutely delivered.”
But Purdy committed the sin of having an awful game late in the regular season, throwing four interception in a blowout loss to visiting Baltimore. His critics were aroused and motivated to attack. They couldn’t wait to go after him.
ESPN’s Ryan Clark went off.
“The single hardest thing I had to do this year was act like Brock Purdy deserved to be in the conversations with the other people we’re mentioning (as among the best quarterbacks.) “Because he was playing extremely well and operating in that offense and distributing the ball, (he) is a fine player. Brock Purdy can operate in Kyle Shanahan’s offense at an extremely efficient level,” Clark said.
“Brock Purdy doesn’t raise the level of play of anyone around him and so when you talk about Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, the people around them benefit from having those sorts of players at the quarterback position,” Clark said. “Brock Purdy benefits from having the sort of players he has at the skill positions around him.”
Funny how that goes. Allen and Jackson were eliminated from the postseason. The Feb. 11 Super Bowl will match Mahomes (Kansas City) against Purdy.
And after Purdy had a brilliant second half to rally the 49ers from a 17-point halftime deficit to beat the Lions for the NFC Championship, Ryan Clark walked back his previous remarks.
“When you look at what Brock Purdy was able to do — Brock Purdy has separated himself from Dak Prescott,” Clark said on ESPN Monday. “Brock Purdy has separated himself from Tua Tagovailoa. Brock Purdy has separated himself from guys like Kirk Cousins and from guys like Justin Herbert. He was asked in the most pressurized moment to be the best he could possibly be. And you know what magnifying glasses do, right?
“When they were looking for Brock Purdy’s imperfections, they got closer to him. Brock Purdy became more of himself. He used his legs. He played above the Xs and Os. Brock Purdy, in my opinion, if I’m looking at those two games (Sunday), Brock Purdy did what we would’ve expected Lamar Jackson to do. Brock Purdy trusted himself. Brock Purdy put the football where it was supposed to be. Brock Purdy won the football game — down 17.”
On the other side of this Purdy derangement syndrome are the comparisons to 49ers icon Joe Montana. You know, Joe Cool, who is on the short list of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Really? Purdy is the heir to Montana’s legacy? After only 26 NFL starts? After winning his first NFC Championship Game? And before Purdy has a chance to play in a Super Bowl?
If the 49ers defeat the Chiefs, does this mean Purdy is Trent Dilfer circa 2000, riding the backs of the Ravens defense to a Super Bowl rout of the Giants? No, Purdy is much better than that. But if the Niners prevail over KC, this won’t make Purdy into something that he’s not — namely a future Hall of Fame quarterback who started and won a Super Bowl.
Here’s an idea: can we give a young quarterback more than, say, a season and a half in the NFL before we shout at the top of our lungs and proclaim him to be (1) a fraud, a pretender, an overhyped “system” quarterback and “game manager” or (2) the new quarterback messiah who can take his rightful place next to Joe Montana?
Former Raiders executive Amy Trask – who is respected for her level-headed approach in her football commentary – went uncharacteristically bananas earlier in the postseason. Basically she said that Purdy’s name doesn’t belong in the company of the remaining playoff quarterbacks.
A lot of fans are in on this, too. For some reason Purdy irritates the hell out of neutral fans. Not all of them, of course. But certainly a lot of them.
Purdy’s teammates are all in with him. He’s earned their respect, and that’s important for a young quarterback. But that doesn’t mean he’s Montana … or even Steve Young for that matter.
I don’t get the resentment. Sure, Purdy is surrounded by several elite playmakers. (Memo: he ain’t the first good quarterback to have a talented cast of teammates.) Shanahan has a savvy offensive mind and is a creative play-caller. One of the best. But Purdy has done a lot more than just stand and wait for everyone else on the team to carry him. Dude has made a lot of great plays. Throwing. Running. And he’s accurate. And smart.
And yes, efficient. Is that it? I know he looks like an intern in the accounting department. And shouldn’t the last player chosen in his draft class – aka “Mr. Irrelevant” – receive the affection of a sports nation that loves underdogs? I mean, Kurt Warner didn’t even get drafted. He went to work in a supermarket. He played Arena League football. He played in NFL Europe. He backed up Tony Banks in St. Louis, for goodness sake. America revered Warner and his story. Purdy for some reason is seen as some sort of entitled brat who is just a passenger on the 49ers bus.
(This game-manager hokum. Y’all know that Tom Brady was a game-manager prototype early in his career with New England, right? Bill Belichick had a great defense, and a strong running game and didn’t have to rely on Brady as the end-all, be-all presence on the field. TB12 was able to grow into the job, and is the best quarterback in NFL history.)
In 21 regular-season starts he’s thrown for 44 touchdowns and 15 interceptions and has a 111.4 passer rating. In his four full postseason games, the Niners are 4-0. You can’t fake or finesse that. This is a results-oriented competition and Purdy has done his part to make the 49ers go.
If Purdy requires validation it can come against Mahomes and the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. But if he loses to Mahomes – the greatest quarterback in the game today – does that mean Purdy is an impostor?
No matter how the Super Bowl plays out, the hot-take, hot-air machine will be shouting at us … to let us know THE TRUTH … Purdy will be the best or the worst, with no middle ground. In this sports culture a young quarterback isn’t allowed to lose his first Super Bowl. No. That cannot happen. You are stained. But if Purdy makes some plays and wins his first Super Bowl, then this will make him Tom Brady. Or something like that. Hey, it’s all part of the entertainment.
Thanks for reading …
A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb