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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Gilberto Manzano

The 49ers Don’t Need a Perfect Brock Purdy in Order to Be Great

Some say the 49ers have a QB-proof offense because they’re loaded with All-Pros and have mastermind Kyle Shanahan calling the plays. But that’s not accurate because it implies San Francisco can be O.K. with starting any quarterback on its roster, such as Sam Darnold, Brandon Allen and Uncle Rico.

Yeah, I couldn’t resist making that terrible Napoleon Dynamite joke, but that’s how far some take it when it comes to this idea that the 49ers can plug-and-play any quarterback and still be a legitimate contender.

Let’s get this out of the way before I nitpick about the 49ers’ starting quarterback: Brock Purdy is a very good quarterback and gives San Francisco the best chance to finally end the organization’s Super Bowl drought that goes back to 1994.

Now for the minor concern about Purdy. He’s had slow starts the past two weeks, including in Thursday’s 30–12 win against the Giants at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. He was inaccurate throughout the first half and was nearly picked off on the opening drive.

Last week, Purdy missed a few downfield throws that likely would have given the 49ers a comfortable early lead against the Rams. Instead, they needed a mini comeback to defeat their NFC West rivals on the road.

Purdy’s misfires could stem from the elbow surgery he had on his throwing arm six months ago, which forced him to miss the entire offseason program. But Purdy was ready for the start of training camp and had a standout Week 1 performance vs. the Steelers, throwing a pair of touchdowns to Brandon Aiyuk, who was ruled out against the Giants because of a shoulder injury.

Luckily for Purdy, he doesn’t need to be perfect with the 49ers’ QB-friendly offense (I like that much better than QB-proof offense). Purdy started the game 3-of-8 for 46 yards before leaning on his star playmakers to brush off the rocky start. The second-year quarterback finished 25-of-37 for 310 yards and two touchdowns.

Purdy and the Niners capitalized on opportunities after a sluggish first quarter.

Jed Jacobsohn/AP

The 49ers exemplified on their third drive why they can afford a few missed throws per game from Purdy. San Francisco converted twice on third-and-15 and all Purdy needed to do was throw screen passes to wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who went 30 yards, and running back Christian McCaffrey, who took off for 17 yards. But Purdy did his part with a nine-yard touchdown pass to rookie seventh-round pick Ronnie Bell to close the drive and give the 49ers a 10–3 advantage with 7:49 left in the second quarter.

As long as San Francisco (3–0) has Samuel and McCaffrey, it’s always going to be tough to defend, even with a few injuries. That’s why Bell, who entered Thursday with no career catches, can contribute immediately with opposing defenses focused on the versatility of Samuel and McCaffrey. But this is not to say the 49ers don’t need Aiyuk—his presence makes this offense scary and is why many football pundits view them as the best team in the NFL.

It goes beyond the primary skill-position players—the 49ers would be in trouble without tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, partly because of what they provide for the blocking game. Oh, and San Francisco also has Trent Williams, the best left tackle in the game. It’s not fair how much talent the 49ers have, and I haven’t even rattled off the Pro Bowlers on the defensive side.

I know: I’m contradicting myself by highlighting the team’s depth. I’m sure it made some opposing coaches sick seeing all of it on display for a prime-time game Thursday.

But if any quarterback could play with the 49ers’ elite offense, defense and coaching, then Jimmy Garoppolo would have a few more Super Bowl rings without Patriots logos.

Purdy offers more than Garoppolo and Trey Lance. That’s why neither of them are still on the roster, and it says plenty that the 49ers were fine with trading Lance to the Cowboys for a fourth-round pick, despite spending three first-round picks to draft him No. 3 in 2021.

The 49ers knew what they had in Purdy after he won his first seven career starts last season and guided them to the NFC title game against the Eagles. Many on the 49ers strongly believe they would have advanced to the Super Bowl had Purdy not injured his throwing arm midway through the first quarter.

Purdy, the final pick in the 2022 draft, immediately displayed poise and a strong understanding of Shanahan’s offensive scheme. And it’s easy to forget that Purdy has only 11 career starts and had never faced the Steelers, Rams or Giants.

Purdy’s minor mistakes could simply be because of inexperience and opposing defenses making adjustments to the expanded film on the Iowa State product who was a mystery last year.

For the second consecutive game, the 49ers had a slow start against a team they were supposed to beat handily. San Francisco was forced to settle for a field goal on the opening drive because of the Giants’ pressure against Purdy. That was followed by a quick five-play drive for the 49ers, who found themselves tied 3–3 heading into the second quarter.

Last week, the 49ers trailed the Rams 17–10 in the first half, and the defense didn’t record its first sack on Matthew Stafford until the third quarter. It didn’t take San Francisco that long Thursday, with Nick Bosa providing the first sack late in the first quarter, nearly forcing Daniel Jones into a safety.

The Saquon Barkley–less Giants trimmed the deficit 17–12 in the third quarter, but similar to last week, the 49ers leaned on their talent advantage and created separation in the fourth quarter.

It’s not just Purdy making mistakes. The 49ers haven’t been as dominant as they were in Week 1 in Pittsburgh. But this team with an embarrassing amount of star power can afford sluggish first halves to games and maybe even for the season.

The 49ers are all about February football, and they’re confident Purdy will have them playing that long, despite a few mistakes along the way.

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