Remember the first 15 or so minutes of the game, when Brock Purdy had a handful of “yikes”-worthy throws? There was a legitimate sense of unease.
Coming into this game, he had been outrageously poised for any first-time starter, let alone the final pick of the draft taking the reins for a Super Bowl-expectant franchise at the age of (a just-turned) 23.
Those concerns seemed laughable a few hours later. Purdy and the 49ers’ nauseatingly talented skill position group went scorched earth. They tallied 505 yards of total offense and 4 TDs, of which Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey were responsible for 301 yards and 2 TDs.
Brandon Aiyuk had five catches for 73 yards and should have had a touchdown of his own, dropping what would have been one of the most impressive TD throws in the NFL this season, and the best of Purdy’s career.
The rookie finished 18-of-30 with a career-high 332 passing yards, 3 TDs, 16 rushing yards and a rushing TD.
He is the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to record 4 TDs in a playoff game.
Jimmy Garoppolo has 4 TDs in his six-game playoff career.
This is not a team carried by its quarterback, nor has it ever needed to be.
But Purdy executes the plays asked of him while also consistently taking, and hitting on the deeper shots built in. One of the damning parts of Jimmy Garoppolo’s game was the regularity in which he missed wide-open receivers, or under- or over-threw on deep targets.
Take the miss Purdy had to Brandon Aiyuk in the early second quarter. Deebo Samuel was wide open, in free space as far as the eye could see. The ball probably should have gone there. But Purdy recognized there was man coverage on Aiyuk and took a 1-on-1 shot to the end zone without safety help. Aiyuk’s reaction was a confused one, and indicated he thought he was held on the play.
That aggression can be a double-edged sword, but it forces defense to account for the deep ball and for throws deep and outside of the hashes.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s preferred target areas were so damningly predictable that defenses essentially only had to account for passes in between the hashes and passes outside of them if they were 10 yards or fewer past the line of scrimmage.
Despite being on par with Garoppolo around 6.8 air yards per target in the regular season, Purdy’s average targets on Saturday were 11.4 yards past the line of scrimmage. Garopplo’s average target distances were 6.3 yards, 6.1 yards and 5.3 yards past the line in last year’s playoffs.
Purdy’s other major element is his intuitive scrambling. It’s a little unhinged at times, as if “Yackety Sax” is playing while he rolls left precipitously, and waits to throw away the ball until the last second.
He has a knack for flipping his hips and escaping pressure that is similar to early-career Russell Wilson. There’s a tact to it that is more about in-the-moment hesitation and feel that raw speed.
While he tested poorly at the NFL Combine, his 10-yard split of 1.55 seconds was in the 95th percentile among quarterbacks. You see that burst frequently, like on that 13-yard scramble for a first down.
And when that off-schedule playmaking works — or at least should — you see moments like the McCaffrey and Mitchell touchdowns, the back-of-the-end zone throw to George Kittle last week, and the dropped dime to Aiyuk this week.
Perhaps the most substantial part of this equation is that Shanahan trusts Purdy. He never fully trusted Jimmy Garoppolo.
Go back to the 2019 playoffs. He all but shut Garoppolo down after a near-second-INT to Mychal Kendricks until the Super Bowl, leaning almost solely on the run game — and to great effect.
But there were consequences in taking the quarterback out of the offense. You almost wondered if he’d do the same to Purdy on Saturday. He didn’t, and Purdy repaid his trust.
Now, play-calling and attacking defenses is quite a bit more complex than just calling pass or run, and the Seahawks were giving the 49ers’ interior offense line problems, whereas the 49ers ran at will in 2019.
But there’s a shift in ethos defined by Shanahan’s playcalling with Purdy than with Garoppolo or Lance. He’s letting it rip. He’s stepping on opponents’ throats. It is persistent aggression. That tentative, “oh, well let’s just make sure we hold onto this lead,” mindset, and frustrating lack of militant confidence was a black eye upon this team.
The 49ers have scored exactly 239 points each for Jimmy Garoppolo and Brock Purdy (crediting the field goal on Garoppolo’s first drive taking over for Trey Lance to Lance, and crediting the first field goal, when Garoppolo was injured against the Dolphins, to Garoppolo).
It took 10 games to score 239 points with Garoppolo. It’s taken (slightly less than) 7 games to score 239 points with Purdy.
The 49ers offense is averaging 34.1 points per game with Purdy. That’s more than the 33.8 per game for the 2016 Atlanta Falcons offense Shanahan oversaw and which won Matt Ryan MVP.
The anxiety has evaporated from this offense. It is pure talent unleashed.
As outrageous as it may seem, given the dominance of the 49ers’ defense throughout this season, it is a team which leads with its offense. There are fewer concerns on that side of the ball.
This is no longer a team which needs to demand Herculean efforts from its defense. They’re putting up points with ease and show no signs of failing to do that.
Purdy has been a revelation, but it’s not that he’s had to carry the team. He had to do that at Iowa State, and admitted that coming into a team with the likes of Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, Elijah Mitchell and Jauan Jennings is almost easier than in college.
But his ability to execute, simply hitting those wide-open skill position players with regularity, take shots when available, and playmake when needed, has been a combination to unlock the fullest potential of a 49ers offense that was fully prepared to wreak havoc. With Purdy, it’s just doing so every game.