If we’re being completely honest, Saturday wasn’t the best day of work for Brock Purdy. But it was also a much worse day for the Brock Purdy can’t crowd.
That’s what the San Francisco 49ers quarterback earned Saturday night in a 24-21 comeback win over the Green Bay Packers in the divisional playoffs. A medium-sized victory for himself, with an assist from his teammates, and a gargantuan loss for his critics. Specifically, the ones who bellowed that he was just a product of his system. That he was overrated, small-framed and tiny-handed. Opining that he was just a manager of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, rather than a dictator of it. All propped upon the dwindling handful of things that Purdy hadn’t done in his very brief two-year career.
Can’t come from behind …
Can’t play without Deebo Samuel …
Can’t mount a game-winning drive when the 49ers need it …
All busted on Saturday night, forcing his naysayers to dig for something new in their arsenal of slights.
Next up? Likely something along the lines of, “Purdy … only beat a seventh-seeded Packers team that was simply happy to be in the divisional round … mounted a game-winning drive against an untested Green Bay roster that was the youngest in the NFL this season … looks crummy throwing passes in the rain … merely survived disaster because of dropped interceptions.” On and on.
All of those narratives might have some truth to them. But when the sun comes up on the Monday morning of conference championship week, not a single one will matter. Because Purdy will move on to his second straight NFC title game in his two seasons as a starter. And he’ll have done it by showcasing a brand of resiliency that he has rarely gotten credit for.
He bounced back from offseason elbow surgery that left some wondering what he’d look like this season. He banged his way through an ugly three-week stretch of losses in October. He got off the floor after getting his clock cleaned in a Christmas Day slaughter against the Baltimore Ravens. And then, on Saturday, when the Packers had the 49ers reeling, Purdy shifted from throwing against a downpour to fitting balls between raindrops. The resulting drive was one that 49ers players and fans will remember — 6-of-7 passing, with the lone incompletion being a bad drop by tight end George Kittle, and a back-breaking 9-yard run in the red zone that would set up the game-winning touchdown run by running back Christian McCaffrey.
From behind. When the 49ers needed it most. Without Deebo Samuel, who had been lost to a shoulder injury.
Did Purdy do it all alone? Of course not. He had help all over the place. Kittle and wideouts Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings had huge moments. McCaffrey typified his role as an All-Pro workhorse. Kicker Jake Moody made a clutch 52-yard field goal after missing an early attempt. And the defense came up huge in spots for much of the night, right down to linebacker Dre Greenlaw’s game-sealing interception. A collection of flaws by a cast of many that resulted in the only thing that mattered: a win and a third straight berth in the NFC title game (and the fourth in five years).
“There was times that we were all off at times,” Shanahan said Saturday night. “What was cool: I thought everyone who had a few plays that stuck out, that either ended a drive or it was why we didn’t get a first down — same thing on defense, even on special teams — but everyone who did do that stuff made a huge play at the end in all three phases to get us back into it. Brock, he made some big plays in this game, missed a couple — but leading us down on that last drive and getting the win, that’s all you can ask for.”
Shanahan has repeated that “all you can ask for” phrase multiple times when talking about Purdy over the course of this season. And that’s the one stat that Purdy’s critics usually fail to recognize. Of all the things he’s managed to pull off in less than two full two years in the NFL, the one that is most impressive is earning the trust of his head coach. Because Shanahan is easily frustrated with his quarterbacks and not accustomed to being patient through their mistakes. Yet he has defended Purdy at every turn, pointed to his successes through every failure, and never wavered when given the opportunity to take credit for what Purdy has accomplished in such a short span.
And on Saturday night, when his quarterback was engineering a game-winning drive that many believed he wasn’t capable of pulling off, it called back to something Shanahan said back in August when explaining Purdy’s unlikely NFL success in such a short span of time.
“[Y]ou don’t know until they get in here,” Shanahan told Yahoo Sports. “And then once they do get in here, you get to see their talent a little bit more on an NFL field. You can see how they handle the NFL pass rush [in practice] — which you usually don’t have in college, but you still don’t know until they get into that game. How can they handle the pressure and stuff week in and week out? Lots of guys can go and do it for one to three weeks, but eventually it catches up to you and you’re going to be exposed. So you have to be made of the right stuff and no one really knows if they’re made of the right stuff until they go through it.”
Purdy went through it late last season. He went through it in the regular season. And he went through it on Saturday night in the waning moments of a defining game. Next week, he’ll return to the NFC championship with unfinished business — and another opportunity to make the “Brock Purdy can’t” crowd go back to the drawing board, in search of whatever excuses it can find to dismiss him.