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

After 30-7 win over Pittsburgh, maybe it’s time to consider Brock Purdy is lifting the 49ers as much as they’re lifting him

Six months ago, 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy had UCL surgery on his right elbow.

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

Purdy was that good in a 30-7 road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead of worrying about whether Purdy is the result of a system and superior teammates, it’s a fair arrangement.

Yes, Purdy receives a lot of assistance from his supporting cast. But it’s also true that he improves the supporting cast.

Who else would you want at quarterback at this point? Not Trey Lance or Jimmy Garoppolo. Not Sam Darnold, who took victory formation snaps after a lopsided victory. Not even Kirk Cousins, whose name came up again this week when 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, according to The Athletic.

The Cousins ship has left port. Kyle Shanahan now has the quarterback he has always desired. Purdy executes with his arm and creates with his feet, and he is willing to take risks while remaining relatively safe with the ball.

“Purdy shut some haters up,” defensive end Nick Bosa said after the game. “It’s nice to be on a really good team.”

This exemplifies the Purdy experience as a chicken-and-egg problem. Is it the 49ers who make Purdy unique, or Purdy who makes them unique?

Why not do both?

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

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

Peterson was the recipient of both Aiyuk touchdowns.

The elbow injury that ended the 49ers’ season in the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia has been resolved. Purdy’s selection in the seventh round with the final pick in the draft is now considered irrelevant, as is his former nickname “Mr. Irrelevant.”

Purdy’s effectiveness is clearly greater than the sum of his physical parts, 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.

Purdy is a facilitator, a playmaker, and a strong leader. His modest and low-key demeanor when dealing with the media belies the fire he displays on the field after big plays. With a smile, he admitted that the second touchdown pass to Aiyuk on Peterson “felt good,” but he gave the veteran corner his due.

Purdy set aside all thoughts of the surgery and how far he’s come in late July.

“I think I felt like that more in camp,” Purdy said. “Right then and there, it was more like, ‘This is what we’re supposed to do, this is what we expect of ourselves.'” I wasn’t thinking about surgery or anything else after we scored the first touchdown. ‘Man, we’re here to win,’ he said. This is how we intend to play.’ That was my mental state.”

Shanahan trusted Purdy enough on the 49ers’ first drive 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 perfectly guided Kittle for an 11-yard gain, the pivotal play in a 54-yard touchdown drive that set the tone for the game.

It was the type of touch pass Lance never mastered, but is crucial 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 explained. “It was exactly how we called it and planned it.”

And, while Purdy’s velocity and the coveted “arm talent” aren’t nearly as important as finding alternate receivers, maneuvering calmly and confidently in the pocket, and finding open targets. Purdy is already one of the best in the NFL in those areas in his second season.

Purdy had to make a split-second decision to give his receiver the best chance in the second touchdown pass to Aiuyk.

“If B.A. beats him off the line, put it in front of him,” Purdy said. “If not, and he has some contact, give him a chance on the back shoulder.” That’s what happened and what I did.”

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

Christian McCaffrey, who rushed for 152 yards against the Steelers, spoke out on his emotions on Friday.

“What a player. “He’s a great leader,” McCaffrey said. “He’s going to be a great player in this league for a long time.” I’m not a quarterback, and I have no idea what they’re reading. All I know is that when he has the ball, he looks as assured as ever, knows exactly where to take it, and plays beyond X’s and O’s.”

When asked to elaborate on his statement that Purdy “shut up some haters,” Bosa said, “I think whenever a guy returns from an injury, people don’t expect him to make another leap in the second year.” I’m just glad for him. He’s exactly what we expected.”

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

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