NFL

Brock Purdy overcame ‘that whole butterfly feeling’ in leading 49ers to crucial victory

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In the world of the San Francisco 49ers, Friday practices are considered the lightest of the week, with one notable exception. On a day when most team drills are done at half speed, there’s one red zone period of 7-on-7 in which everyone goes all in.

For 13 weeks, Niners quarterback Brock Purdy has led the scout team in those drills against the Niners’ first-team defense. In each of those weeks, Purdy’s taken pride in occasionally sneaking one past Niners linebacker Fred Warner and Co. for a touchdown. Two days before Sunday’s 33-17 win against the Miami Dolphins, Purdy was at it again, firing twice in the direction of Warner and coming up empty both times.

Warner made sure Purdy heard all about it, yelling at the top of his lungs for Purdy to “know better” than to try throwing in Warner’s direction.

“You can just tell by the way he walks, you know when somebody has just kind of got the ‘It,’ you can kind of see it, and I think he does,” Warner said. “I know he can take that. That’s how I know he’s prepared, he’s ready. He’s played against the best defense in the league for the past 13 weeks. So, he’s going to be just fine.”

Warner’s hope is one shared by the rest of the 49ers after starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a broken left foot early in Sunday’s victory. Garoppolo’s injury comes just 11 weeks after Trey Lance went down with a right fibula fracture. Suddenly, Purdy has gone from No. 3 on San Francisco’s quarterback depth chart to No. 1.

It’s a sudden, if unwanted, rise for Purdy, who was the 262nd and final pick in the 2022 NFL draft. It’s the one pick that comes with a title, albeit a dubious one: Mr. Irrelevant. When Purdy starts next week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he’ll be the first Mr. Irrelevant to start at quarterback in a regular-season game. But relevance is something Purdy hasn’t lacked and certainly doesn’t now.

This isn’t a rookie taking over a team with little to play for. Purdy is taking over a ready-to-win team that’s 8-4, leading the NFC West and riding a five-game win streak. Draft position and how he’s ascended to the starting job mean nothing when you’re in the middle of a locker room with Super Bowl aspirations.

“That’s just where I fell in the draft,” Purdy said. “I’m very thankful that I got drafted, but I’ve always had confidence and belief in myself that I could play at this level.”

Pressed into his first meaningful snaps after Garoppolo’s injury, Purdy said he had “the whole butterfly feeling,” but that soon dissipated after he took a hit or two. He threw his first NFL touchdown pass to fullback Kyle Juszczyk on his first drive.

Soon after, Miami dialed up the pressure, often going with “Zero” blitzes that leave every defender not matched up with a skill-position player to rush the quarterback. Purdy struggled initially but found his rhythm when he recognized the pressures, put his foot in the ground and delivered a strike to tight end George Kittle for 19 yards just before halftime. Seven plays later, he found running back Christian McCaffrey for his second touchdown toss and a 17-10 lead.

Purdy finished 25-of-37 for 210 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception for a rating of 88.8. Even his lone interception was a winning play, as it came on fourth-and-4 from Miami’s 39 and was picked off by Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard at Miami’s 19 for a net gain of 20 yards versus an incompletion. All told, Miami blitzed Purdy 13 times, with Purdy going 8-of-12 for 54 yards while being sacked once.

“Brock came in and made some big plays,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We have got to clean some stuff up, obviously, but just throwing him in there in the heat of battle like that, how much zero (coverage) that team did too, as you guys can see that was a big plan of theirs and they had some good adjustments taking away some of our hot throws, so we were able to change a lot of stuff on the fly and put a lot of pressure on him that way and I thought he did a hell of a job doing it.”

Before Lance took over for Garoppolo this season, the Niners believed he wouldn’t have to do too much for them to contend. The primary objectives were to take care of the ball and get it in the hands of playmakers like receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, Kittle and others. San Francisco has since added McCaffrey to that stable. It’s a group complemented by a defense leading the league in fewest points and yards allowed per game, among other categories.

All of which means Purdy won’t be asked to carry the freight any more than the Niners’ other quarterbacks.

“The way that he comes out and prepares and competes, the confidence he has, the swag he has, like, I have got all the confidence in the world in Purdy,” Warner said. “It’s a lot to ask of a rookie, obviously, being thrust into the position he’s in. But at the same time, he doesn’t have to do too much… He’s in the best position possible.”


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