In the golden age of social media, back in the days when people wanted attention but didn’t feel like doing their own dental work with a nail file on TikTok, they would get permanent tattoos declaring a sports team would win a championship months in advance of the season taking place.
It was the ultimate guarantee.
Those were simpler times, but sadly the cost of relevance has risen to a point where I’m not comfortable playing ball. If the tattoo trend was still the way to get your boldest sports take out to the masses, though, I may run to my local parlor and get this zapped onto my forearm in the days following the news that Jimmy Garoppolo will miss the remainder of the season with a broken foot: The 49ers are going to win multiple playoff games with Brock Purdy at quarterback. I am certain enough about this, that, at the very least, I would support you, dear reader, in your endeavor to do so (bonus points if you get the phrase “Purdy Neat” in sans serif beneath it).
Maybe this sounds a tiny bit less outlandish after a 49ers win over a Dolphins team that hadn’t previously lost a full game played with Tua Tagovailoa under center, in which an unblockable defensive end (Nick Bosa) shouldered most of the schematic weight. San Francisco has an excellent running game and a great defense, which can insulate even the most questionable quarterback play (unless you’re the Broncos). Purdy, who went 25-of-37 for 210 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, also makes this claim feel a little less dangerous because he was, at the very least, capable. On the Sunday Night Football halftime show, former Cowboys coach Jason Garrett even said he had “moxie,” which is an inspiring complement if I’ve ever heard one.
Still, we should get credit for staking a claim now. Imagine if you knew Nick Foles or Case Keenum were going to tear up the NFC playoffs early in the 2017 season. The 49ers are going to do the same thing with their third-string quarterback, the guy who was picked dead last in the 2022 draft out of Iowa State.
Back on Monday following Week 12, we wrote that the 49ers were among the most brilliant teams in football for building a quarterback-neutral offense at the perfect time in NFL history. The loss of Garoppolo doesn’t change our belief in its potential successes. It only deepens our belief that this is true.
For the Cliffs Notes version: At a time when attrition rates are high, teams are rarely starting their best 11 defenders, players are missing tackles at a higher percentage than ever and defenses are guarding against deep passes, leaving the checkdown areas wide open for enterprising coaches and quarterbacks. The 49ers have assembled the best group of players to rack up yards after catch in the modern NFL. Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Christian McCaffrey, Kyle Juszczyk and Brandon Aiyuk are all incredibly fast, incredibly physical and they all play multiple positions, which gives them a slight edge in creating openings to receive shorter passes out of the backfield.
The 49ers don’t ask their quarterbacks to do nothing, but they do take an awful lot of the grunt work and leave it to their skill-position players.
On Sunday against the Dolphins, there were precious few moments where one noticed much of a difference who was in there. Purdy’s head was in the perfect place to sell a beautiful play fake that conflicted a pair of Dolphins defenders guarding Samuel, allowing Juszczyk to slip into the end zone untouched behind a legal Aiyuk screen. On his lone interception of the afternoon, he opted for Aiyuk in single coverage over a wide-open McCaffrey on a far shorter and easier checkdown throw. Still, the instinct wasn’t horrible, and he’ll be shown that play on repeat for the next six days. He’ll also get starters’ reps in practice.
I understand the typical life cycle of the NFL backup quarterback, which begins with a better-than-expected performance, then peaks in a cacophony of mid-week hype about how the team may have some unpolished gem in its midst, followed by the throbbing, migraine-level pain of the entire thing crashing back to Earth upon an elongated series of starts.
I also understand what I saw in the latter portion of Purdy’s first win against the Dolphins. Here was a good opponent still completely unable to tell if the 49ers were passing or running, who were still completely unable to cover up cutback lanes wider than the gaps between certain planets and, thus, unable to treat Purdy like the typical, limited and overschemed backup who is just praying for a 13–10 victory.
In that way, we cannot necessarily label his trajectory as similar to the Mike White Experience, or the Bailey Zappe Hour. It is something bigger than the position and the person as a whole. And that’s the point.
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