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The Inquirer

Brock Purdy’s Unexpected Journey from Mr. Irrelevant to MVP Finalist

Jar-Lar, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The San Francisco 49ers brutally lost Super Bowl LVIII to the Kansas City Chiefs 25-22 in an overtime thriller on Sunday that will leave fans across the Bay Area stinging for a while. But fans should feel better about quarterback Brock Purdy, aka “Mr. Irrelevant,” who has become anything but that in his second year in the NFL.

Purdy threw for 255 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions during his Super Bowl debut, and earned the respect of the Chiefs’ defense following the game. According to NFL Network reporter Albert Breer, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and other members of the coaching staff were “blown away” by Purdy’s ability to pick apart their defense. One coach even said Purdy has qualities of Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees.

Against a strong Chiefs defense that ranked second during the regular season, Purdy posted a quarterback rating  of 70 — far better than previous quarterbacks who played the Chiefs in the playoffs this year, such as Tua Tagovailola and Lamar Jackson, who posted ratings of 43.

“I thought Brock was sensational last night,” said ESPN’s Dan Orlovosky on the Pat McAfee Show. “If you do anything but walk away even more encouraged about Brock Purdy we just look at football very differently.” 

The second-year pro, dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant” due to being the last pick in the 2022 NFL draft, has defied the odds throughout his young career. After suffering an elbow injury to his throwing arm in the 2022 NFC Championship game, which forced him into surgery in the offseason, Purdy led the 49ers to a 12-5 record in the 2023 regular season, firmly placing himself in the MVP conversation.

However, for some critics, Purdy’s production wasn’t enough to get him out of the category of “game manager.”  Former NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton’s recent comments about the second-year pro in particular sparked some controversy in the football world.

“They’re not winning because of him, he’s managing the game,” said Newton on his  “4th and 1” podcast. “He’s a game manager, not a difference maker. I’m not asking you to win the game, just not to lose the game.” 

A “game manager” is typically defined as a safe quarterback who posts above average statistics due to a good supporting cast of players, but doesn’t have the ability to make clutch, elite plays due to a lack of talent. But after watching Purdy defeat the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions in back-to-back comeback playoff wins to get the 49ers into the Super Bowl, it’s safe to say that label does not apply. 

While ranking top five in the NFL in touchdowns and completion percentage, Purdy also this year broke the 49ers single-season passing record, throwing for 4,280 yards. Purdy went on to lead the NFL in passer rating at 113—the 14th highest rating ever recorded for a single season in NFL history.

Alex Smith, the former 49ers quarterback and now ESPN analyst, bristled at the media’s minimization of Purdy’s performance. 

“I was frustrated this week with all that ‘Brock Purdy is just a guy, that he’s just average, just a product of this great situation,’” said Smith. “I can tell you, as the unofficial president of the game managers club, he’s not allowed in.”

Nevertheless, as we see time and time again in football, all of the regular season success doesn’t matter if a player can’t win and produce at a high level in the playoffs. 

Former Las Vegas Raiders executive Amy Trask certainly felt that way. Despite Purdy’s consecutive victories before his injury in the playoffs in the 2022 season, she didn’t buy the hype heading into this year’s postseason. 

“Four games. Eight quarterbacks,” Trask said on her “What The Football” podcast. “Seven terrific quarterbacks—and Brock Purdy.”

Purdy responded by leading the 49ers to a victory in the divisional round against the Green Bay Packers. Despite struggling throughout the game, being unable to grip the ball due to pouring rain, “Mr. Irrelevant” delivered on a game-sealing drive, making six of his seven completions on San Francisco’s final possession, which led to a clinching touchdown run from Christian McCaffery. 

This is just what Purdy critics wanted to see, since the 49ers didn’t have to play from down multiple scores and fight adversity, and more importantly, Purdy never had to do so—a key difference between a game manager and a top tier quarterback.

Despite his late-game heroics, Purdy’s critics looked over his efforts to point out that he didn’t play well for the majority of the game, where he had some of his lowest completion success of the season at 59 percent. 

Former NFL champion safety and ESPN analyst Ryan Clark went on the ESPN show “First Take” following the victory against the Packers to slam Purdy.

“The single hardest thing I had to do this year was act like Brock Purdy deserved to be in the conversations with Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen,” said Clark. “Brock Purdy doesn’t raise the level of play of anyone around him.”

Six days later, Purdy found himself at the bottom of another steep hill. Down 24-7 at halftime against the Detroit Lions in the NFC Championship game, the 49ers looked like a completely different team than the powerhouse they had been all season. Levi’s Stadium seemed to have the life sucked out of it as hope among the 49ers faithful slowly diminished. 

Then, in the second half, Purdy injected life into the offense and thrilled the stands, becoming the first NFL quarterback in over thirty years to throw for 150 yards, complete 80 percent of his passes, and average 10 yards a run in a single half. The 49ers came back to win 34-31 and punched their ticket to Super Bowl LVIII.

Shannon Sharpe, hall of fame tight end and Super Bowl champion, had this to say on ESPN’s show “First Take” the day after that victory, when asked if Brock Purdy had put all the criticism to bed: 

“No, he has to go do it in the Super Bowl. If he gets to the Super Bowl and plays like he did against the Ravens, what are we going to say?”

It felt like the criteria kept changing for Purdy. The last pick in the draft, who gets paid the least amount of money of any starting quarterback in the NFL, who finished top 5 in MVP voting, who was coming off a horrific elbow injury, just keeps silencing doubt. And when those doubts get disproved, new ones form. 

But the more questions Purdy answers on the field, the more respect he earns from teammates and from media figures throughout the football world. 

ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, a former NFL player and front office executive, said of Purdy, “People will do gymnastics in their minds trying to cut him down, but the fact of the matter is, objectively, the stats say he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, if not the best.”

All-Pro left tackle and teammate Trent Williams expressed his confidence in Purdy following the painful Super Bowl loss.

“Brock’s the guy, hell of a player, will be for a long time,” said Williams. “He’s the face of the franchise.”

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About the Contributor
Azane Massey, Staff Writer

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