SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Yes, the San Francisco 49ers have had some ultra-efficient quarterback performances like the one Brock Purdy had on Sunday.
Steve Young went 18-of-20 in a game in 1991. Alex Smith was 18-of-19 in 2012. Young, however, had just turned 30 and was in his seventh season when the 49ers routed the Detroit Lions 35-3 back then. Smith, meanwhile, was making his 76th start when he had his single-incompletion game against the Arizona Cardinals 11 years ago.
Purdy? Sunday was just his ninth regular-season start. He’s three months shy of his 24th birthday. The guy looks like he might need to shave every third day.
And yet, he was slightly more precise than Young, Smith, Joe Montana or any 49ers passer. Purdy’s 20-of-21 outing against the Cardinals means he has the team’s all-time record, 95.2 percent, for single-game accuracy.
“He was great. He was almost perfect,” coach Kyle Shanahan said afterward. “A lot of times that (Arizona) defense is real, they don’t give you the big throws so you kind of got to pick them apart, and he was very efficient at doing that.”
The key to the 49ers’ success from the time Purdy stepped in for Jimmy Garoppolo 10 months ago is that he’s skipped the awkward, baby-steps phase nearly every other NFL quarterback has to go through. He looked like a multiyear veteran during Sunday’s 35-16 win over the Cardinals and sounded like one afterward.
49ers’ McCaffrey scores 4 TDs in win vs. Cardinals
He and the rest of the 49ers said they had no idea he was on a record-setting pace for efficiency while they were on the field. They only found out about it when Shanahan highlighted the numbers during his postgame speech in the locker room.
And Purdy was kicking himself about his lone misfire, which came on third down at the Arizona 46-yard line with 10:48 to go in the third quarter. His throw to Christian McCaffrey was too far to the outside.
“He broke out. He was open,” Purdy said. “I could have hit him, and then we would have been in field goal range. I mean, that’s something I’m going to have to learn from and wish I could have had back.”
Sunday’s game was entirely different than Purdy’s Week 3 encounter with the New York Giants, who blitzed on all but a handful of his dropbacks. He began that game out of sync, completing just three of his first eight attempts. He missed his first throw Sunday, too, but that was because the Cardinals were guilty of holding his target, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, on the play.
After that, he was surgical in his dissection of a Cardinals defense that rarely brought pressure, opting instead to drop most of their defenders in coverage. He hit Brandon Aiyuk over the middle for 16 yards, then connected with McCaffrey on back-to-back throws, the second of which probably would have resulted in a touchdown had linebacker Ezekiel Turner not dragged McCaffrey down by his facemask. McCaffrey scored two plays later on a 1-yard run, one of his four scores on the day.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) October 1, 2023
The 49ers largely prepared for Arizona without two of their three best receivers. Deebo Samuel, who’s been dealing with a knee injury, played Sunday, but because he didn’t return to the practice field until Friday, he wasn’t a big part of the game plan and wasn’t targeted in the passing game. Jauan Jennings, meanwhile, has a shin injury and didn’t play.
Those issues don’t matter much when you’re as rich in talent as the 49ers.
The rest of the game went a lot like the opening drive — with Purdy targeting McCaffrey on deep throws and Aiyuk on longer ones. He was 7-of-8 on throws to McCaffrey and 6-of-6 to Aiyuk, the second time this season he’s been perfect when targeting the wideout. Aiyuk caught 8-of-8 targets for a then career-high 129 yards in a Week 1 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Sunday, he caught all six passes that went his way for 148 yards. Five of the 49ers’ six longest plays of the game came on throws to Aiyuk.
“The chemistry in practice is great,” center Jake Brendel said afterward. “They obviously work very well together. And I think the tempo in practice is perfect for Brock to make sure we’ve got the right angles, the right trajectory on routes and stuff like that.”
That chemistry was evident on the game’s longest play, a second-quarter throw to Aiyuk down the middle of the field. Though the receiver was double covered, Purdy and Aiyuk outfoxed the defenders when the throw went to the right and Aiyuk broke off his route to snag it.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) October 1, 2023
Purdy called it an “opportunity ball.”
“BA did a great job adjusting and he made a great play,” he said. “So all the credit to BA on that play.”
“I saw it, it was great,” Brendel said. “BA made a great play on that. I’m not sure why Brock threw it there, but it worked. I don’t know if it’s the right angle or anything. I’m the wrong guy to ask about that. But it was just amazing to see BA change trajectory — basically like a 40-degree turn — to get back at the ball. He attacked the ball and got a great completion.”
At some point, Purdy will have a rotten outing like every quarterback does. During some game this season, he’ll throw an interception, something he hasn’t done since the 49ers visited the Las Vegas Raiders on New Year’s Day. For now, however, he’s playing as well — and as consistently — as any 49ers quarterback has since the Steve Young era. The 49ers have scored at least 30 points in each of his last seven regular-season starts and, for the second time this season, Shanahan trusted him with a fourth-down throw early in the game. Like he did in Pittsburgh, Purdy delivered with a strike to tight end George Kittle.
Afterward, Shanahan was asked why he has such great faith in such a young quarterback.
“Just your experiences with a guy,” he said. “And he’s extremely consistent in practice since he’s been here and he’s been the same in games. So what you guys see, is what we see and it’s what we feel, and it’s him.”
(Photo: Sergio Estrada / USA Today)
“The Football 100,” the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Preorder it here.