Brock Purdy looked like a mess to start Thursday night.
George Kittle and Deebo Samuel both had to play defensive back on near interceptions. He had three other bad or at least questionable throws. He had three-straight incompletions to Samuel to end that drive, going 3-of-8, which was perhaps the worst of his career as a starter.
Then, he does what he always seems to do: settled in.
He threw an inch-perfect dime down the left sideline to Kittle for a 15-yard gain. On the following drive, he offered the same to Ronnie Bell at the front left pylon for the rookie’s first career catch, a toe-tap touchdown.
There were plenty of misses, and some dangerous throws to follow. This was miles from the pinnacle of what we’ve seen from him.
And still, he was rock solid, with some nonsensically impressive deliveries.
He threw a dime of a back-shoulder throw to Christian McCaffrey that should’ve been a touchdown at front left pylon. Later, he connected on a redemption of that play to Deebo Samuel on the opposite side of the field for a 27-yard dagger touchdown.
To say Purdy was bad on Thursday night is absolutely not true. But he was uneven, and more mistake-prone than we’ve been used to from him.
That said, this wasn’t an easy task. This was a short week, without his best true receiver in Brandon Aiyuk and against a well-rounded defense with an unhinged, veteran defensive coordinator in Wink Martindale betting his career on the blitz.
Martindale blitzed Purdy on 33 of 39 dropbacks. That’s 85 percent. That’s bullying your younger brother on Madden-level play-calling.
Left guard Aaron Banks was beat at least once by what he called a “feast or famine” approach from Martindale, after not allowing a pressure in his first two games.
He credited that defensive approach for being able to get teams in disadvantageous third-and-longs, but said when you can anticipate those blitzes, it makes it possible to “gash teams like that.”
The 49ers did that, frequently with screens and quick balls to the likes of Samuel, McCaffrey and George Kittle.
Martindale loves to throw the phonebook at young quarterbacks, and just like when Purdy faced a barrage of blitzes in his first extended game against the Miami Dolphins, he handled it with poise beyond his years.
He keeps doing that.
Even with the misses and sketchy moments over the past two games, Purdy seems unflappable. He is calm in seas of chaos, buying just enough time to deliver when he’s sure to be clobbered. When he has a head-scratching drive, he delivers on the next one.
Banks paid credit to Purdy’s disposition and ability to be flexible in his approach.
“It’s awesome, man. He puts his hardhat on and he adjusts,” Banks told KNBR. “Whatever’s happened, he doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low. He’s a grown man in there. That’s what you want from a quarterback and especially a young quarterback to carry his head on the shoulders the way he does, and just keep going and keep playing.”
The kid, who doesn’t seem like a kid, and really doesn’t seem like the final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, continues to make adjustments.
That ability is profoundly impressive, not just for a young quarterback, but any quarterback. It requires an ability to diagnose defensive approaches holistically, both pre- and post-snap, then attack them. It’s one thing to know what a defense is throwing at you, and another to actually beat it.
We are twelve games in, and the only game Purdy has lost is the one when his elbow snapped. He has 20 touchdowns and 4 interceptions (one of which came in a blowout relief appearance against the Chiefs, and another was a 50-50 ball that became an arm punt in that first game against the Dolphins).
There will continue to be criticism about Purdy, and there is plenty to criticize from these last two games. We all would like to see what happens when he does throw an interception and when the 49ers trail. That’s a crucial test that will surely come at some point this season.
But his ability to adjust, make off-schedule plays and execute in different ways — and attack different levels of the field — cannot just be shrugged off. He wouldn’t be what he is without Kyle Shanahan and his elite playmakers, but that’s irrelevant, because he is where he is. And as he continues to show, he’s plenty capable of making plays himself.