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Brock Purdy silences his doubters and puts the 49ers in position for a playoff run

By JOSH DUBOW
AP Pro Football Writer

When the San Francisco 49ers arrived at training camp, the biggest questions surrounding one of the NFL’s most talented teams involved quarterback Brock Purdy.

Purdy had to prove that the late-season success he had in 2022 as a seventh-round rookie wasn’t a fluke and that the major elbow injury that derailed San Francisco’s Super Bowl hopes wouldn’t limit him this season.

After making it through the regular season by posting some of the most efficient numbers ever for a quarterback and starting every game before sitting in a meaningless Week 18, Purdy answered all those questions.

Now he has to prove he can be the quarterback who can help carry the Niners to the Super Bowl title that has eluded them under coach Kyle Shanahan.

Purdy and the 49ers (12-5) earned the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye thanks in part to his performance. San Francisco tried to stay sharp this week before opening the postseason at home on either Jan. 20 or 21 against the lowest remaining seed in the NFC playoffs after wild-card weekend.

After going on a deep playoff run as a rookie last season, Purdy knows what to expect when the stakes elevate this time of year.

“I just feel like you get everybody’s best ball,” he said. “Everybody’s in tune to what they need to do at a high level. Every drive, every play, really matters. Obviously that should be the case for the regular season, but postseason last year I feel like I felt that. … Every possession matters. Not turning the ball over, like all the little things matter. So, I just feel like the intensity is just cranked up a little bit more.”

Purdy handled that fine last year, throwing for 332 yards with three touchdown passes and a TD run in a wild-card win against Seattle and then playing a turnover-free game in a divisional round win against Dallas. He then injured his elbow on the opening drive of the NFC title game against Philadelphia and was forced back into the game in the second half even though he couldn’t throw the ball more than a few yards.

That led to the elbow surgery in March and the questions at the beginning of the season that Purdy answered emphatically.

He began throwing in late May and was back at practice for training camp when he quickly put to rest any questions about whether he would be the Week 1 starter in San Francisco.

He then delivered right from the start of the season. He became the first Niners quarterback in more than 20 years to throw for more than 4,000 yards (4,280) or at least 30 TDs (31). He led the NFL with a 113 passer rating and his 9.6 yards per attempt were the most in the NFL for a qualifying QB since Kurt Warner had 9.9 in 2000.

“He’s mature enough to handle that pressure of being the 49ers’ starting quarterback, breaking records in his first career season as a starter,” Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle said. “There’s a lot that people expect out of Brock, but I think he just does such a good job of being himself.”

Yet Purdy still faced skeptics who credited his success to Shanahan’s innovative schemes and playmakers like NFL rushing leader Christian McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and Kittle.

But none of those doubters were in his locker room.

“I don’t get why people say he’s a system quarterback,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “No system quarterback can make tight-window throws before they’re there, throwing people open, putting the ball into a window and trusting his receiver to get there. Layering balls over linebackers who are in good position. He’s so accurate. You watch a lot of throws and the accuracy gives guys a chance to run after the catch. I don’t think he gets enough credit for that.”

Purdy’s performance this season did have a few down moments as he struggled to lead the Niners from behind during a three-game losing streak in October and then threw four interceptions in a Christmas night showdown against Baltimore.

But he never shied away from taking blame for his mistakes and always responded in a way that garnered confidence from his teammates that he can deal with whatever hurdles might come up in the playoffs.

“I’m never really worried about Purdy,” Kittle said. “He threw multiple interceptions in a game. I’m not really worried. He’ll bounce back like he always does.”

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL

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