SANTA CLARA — An old Vince Lombardi quote sums up 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy’s performance Sunday:
“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence,” the former Packers coach is credited with saying.
But Purdy, according to one metric, was perfect in the 27-14 win over the Buccaneers. He became the first 49ers quarterback in 49ers history to post a perfect quarterback rating (158.3) in a game with more than 20 pass attempts.
“What an honor,” Purdy said.
“At the same time, there’s still some plays and stuff I wished I had back. I’m not completely content with that.”
Yes, if we want to be pedantic alongside the Niners quarterback, he did throw four incomplete passes against Tampa Bay.
But while Purdy might have missed out on true perfection, the 49ers’ second-year quarterback was unquestionably excellent Sunday. Purdy threw for 333 yards on 21-of-25 passing with three touchdowns and, most importantly, zero turnovers.
He made the quarterback position look easy.
When that happens, it’s hard to imagine anyone beating San Francisco.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has trusted Purdy since he became the No. 1 quarterback last December.
He had no choice. While Purdy was the team’s fourth option at quarterback heading into training camp that season, when injuries forced him into the starter role, the 49ers were not in a position to simplify their offense for the sake of a young quarterback. They were a team with serious Super Bowl aspirations, after all.
The full weight of Shanahan’s hefty playbook was put on Purdy’s shoulders.
Trust would first be given, then earned.
And 17 regular-season starts into his NFL career, Purdy has earned it in spades.
Shanahan’s trust in Purdy was on full display the last two weeks.
Sunday, against an excellent run defense, the Niners attacked Tampa Bay through the air from the game’s opening snap. The run-first Niners became a fun-and-gun team in Week 11.
Purdy to Brandon Aiyuk. (Five catches, 156 yards, and a touchdown.)
Purdy to George Kittle. (Eight catches for 89 yards and a touchdown.)
Purdy to Deebo Samuel. (Twenty-one yards a catch.)
The Niners’ pass game revved into high gear on Sunday.
“I thought he had a hell of a game,” Shanahan said of Purdy.
Aiyuk had the highlight of the day, a 76-yard touchdown catch-and-run on a fly route out of the slot. (Shanahan placed him in the slot often this week, a clever move.)
And while credit needs to go to Aiyuk — he beat his man off the line of scrimmage and outran a safety in the open field — the parabola of Purdy’s pass, which traveled 45 yards in the air, ensured that Aiyuk didn’t have to change his alter his stride to catch the ball.
It was as if the ball magically appeared in his hands en route to the end zone.
Not bad for a quarterback who is not known for his arm strength or deep balls.
“Brock’s arm looks great,” Kittle said.
“You don’t get that many plays like that in a game,” Purdy said. “I saw all of it. It was pretty sweet.”
And while not every pass was as pretty and effortless on Sunday, the rest didn’t seem far off.
Purdy and his elite receivers cut through the Buccaneers’ defense like a hot knife through butter. There wasn’t a throw Purdy proved incapable of completing, on time, and he was asked to make some tough passes against a tough Tampa Bay defense.
“Brock’s a solid, really good quarterback. I don’t know if he can run a 4.3 [40-yard dash], but everything we’ve asked him to do, he’s done at a really high level,” Shanahan said. “We run plays, he goes through progressions, attacks coverages. He goes through the whole defense.”
Indeed, he did. And what a welcome change that is for San Francisco as this season heads into the home stretch.
It seems like a different era, but a little over a week ago, there were fair questions about whether Purdy could be that kind of quarterback moving forward. The 49ers had lost three straight games to close October, and Purdy, while still statistically solid, was making more mistakes than usual. He turned the ball over six times in those three losses. For the Niners, it was the difference between winning and losing.
But in the two games since — against two good defenses — he’s been dynamite: 40-of-51, 629 yards, with six touchdowns and no turnovers.
Shanahan said there was nothing Purdy needed to change from that stretch, save for the turnovers. He expected his quarterback to bounce back.
“You never know [if they can] until people go through it,” Shanahan said. “But the film was so good — the guy was playing unbelievable in those three losses. It wasn’t really something to worry about… You just have to make sure he doesn’t make up stuff.”
Purdy disagreed with Shanahan’s assessment Sunday.
He credits a mindset shift for his — and the 49ers’ — resurgent play. It’s a level of play they’ll need to keep as the team heads into its most daunting three-game stretch of the season: at Seattle on Thursday, at Philadelphia, home against Seattle.
“Not even that we were complacent or anything, but [we had the mindset] that we were just going to walk into the game and it was going to be given to us,” Purdy said. “I had to get back to ‘Man, we gotta go take it.’
“Getting back to that, and proving myself every drive, every play, that I can be the guy for this team. I have to earn it every single week.”
We’re now over an entire NFL regular season into Purdy’s career as an NFL starter. He’s been tossed into every situation — good and bad — and found ways to thrive.
And Sunday’s game, No. 18, might have been his best yet.
The fact that his performances continue to ask that question, one year in, says something. This guy doesn’t have much left to prove. What more could you need to see from No. 13 to make you a believer?
But so long as Purdy doesn’t believe he’s the real deal, the Niners will continue to be in good hands at the most important position in the game.
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