To borrow from a former Raiders CEO, all that’s left in the NFL postseason is one great quarterback and Brock Purdy.
The 49ers have two weeks to worry about a return engagement with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas.
That gives a small window to revel in a 34-31 win in the NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium, a game they trailed 24-7 at halftime before they put 27 consecutive points on the board before a delirious home crowd that could scarcely believe its own eyes.
No sense in picking on Amy Trask, the former Raiders exec who said at the outset of the postseason on her podcast there were seven great quarterbacks and Purdy. There are plenty of people nationally who agree with her and will still agree with her — especially if the 49ers lose against the Chiefs and Mahomes on Feb. 11 at Allegiant Stadium.
After the game, confetti rained down and at the victory stand, Purdy wore an ear-to-year smile even if he deflected credit as usual when talking with analyst Michael Strahan of Fox.
“It’s a team sport. We knew we had a half left, defense did their job,” Purdy said. “The boys on offense took care of business, Coach called a great game and we had the Faithful behind us the whole way.”
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) celebrates while holding The George Halas trophy after winning the NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Detroit Lions 34-31. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Fans were chanting “Purdy, Purdy, Purdy” which was in stark contrast when television microphones picked up a Detroit contingent cheering “Jared Goff, Jared Goff, Jared Goff” before halftime. Earlier in the half, sharp-eyed fans on social media even caught Eminem giving the finger to 49ers fans from a private box.
It was that bad.
The 49ers are no strangers to losing the NFC Championship Game, having lost the last two seasons and 11 times in 18 games coming in. This one looked like it would be the worst, considering how one-sided the game was heading into the third quarter.
While there were myriad moments and heroes for the 49ers, none stood taller than the supposedly undersized Purdy. He was 7 of 15 for 93 yards and an interception that led to a Detroit touchdown at halftime. In the second half, Purdy was 13 of 16 for 174 yards and a touchdown. He also scrambled for 49 yards on five carries after having lost a yard on his lone carry of the first half.
Purdy’s mobility was in contrast to Goff, the Marin Catholic and Cal product who went 25 of 41 to 273 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought it was the difference between winning and losing,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Brock competed his ass off today.”
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) runs for a first down while being chased by Detroit Lions’ Aidan Hutchinson, (97) in the fourth quarter of their NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Detroit Lions 34-31. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
The whole storyline about Purdy not being able to come from behind? He has done it for the last two weeks including a 24-21 divisional playoff win over Green Bay. He lacks the Montana-Young magic? How then to explain a 51-yard strike to Brandon Aiyuk that got the 49ers on their way?
Purdy, whose arm strength contributed to his seventh-round draft standing, actually overthrew Aiyuk only to have the ball bounce off the facemask of a backpedaling Kindle Vildor.
“In that moment, I’m looking at it like, ‘We need a play,’ ” Purdy said. “I’m not going to be stupid and throw the ball up, but B.A. is one-on-one. I’m going to take that (opportunity). Especially in this kind of game, we need that play. I was giving my guy a shot.”
Aiyuk lunged forward and caught the ball out of the air and Vildor’s thigh grazed Aiyuk at the 6-yard line. Three plays later, Purdy threw a 6-yard strike to Aiyuk in the end zone.
“Just like we expected it to look,” tight end George Kittle said. “Off his facemask and we got a big play. Dang, Brock’s good at football isn’t he?”
If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.
It wasn’t a rah-rah halftime speech that turned things around.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) passes in the third quarter of their NFC Championship Game against the Detroit Lions at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
“There really wasn’t much said,” Purdy said. “Kyle said a couple of things. Fred (Warner) said a couple of things. But we kept it simple. We went out, we knew what we had to do. The season’s on the line, we’re down 17, and we played really good complementary team football from there.”
As for Purdy’s scrambles — including a 21-yard run on third-and-4 during the drive that put the 49ers up 34-24 — he said he was just doing what was required.
“He scampers,” Kittle said. “Ever see one of those little water dragons running across the water?”
Purdy was matter-of-fact in analyzing of his running ability.
“You drop back, they did a good job with pressures and if there’s someone there, I had to use my legs,” Purdy said. “It’s the NFC Championship and you’ve got to find a way.”
While Purdy said “nothing’s going to be given to us,” the 49ers got a big assist from Detroit coach Dan Campbell, who twice passed up field goal attempts on fourth down that failed in the second half — one on a dropped pass and another when a receiver was open.
Purdy great scramble pic.twitter.com/vWVg0iDKoq
— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) January 29, 2024
Campbell, who has rolled the dice all season, was like the cowboy who was insistent about dying with his boots on, the fighter who was going to wade in and go for the knockout when he was ahead on points in the 12th round.
It played into Purdy’s hands. He may not be Mahomes, but at this point it would be hard for 49ers players to doubt their quarterback who makes a fraction of his income. At 24, he’s the youngest quarterback to lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl.
“Man, I don’t have enough good things to say about Brock,” running back Christian McCaffrey said. “All he’s done since he’s been here is play at an elite level. Everything starts with him and we’re lucky he’s our quarterback. He takes a lot of heat for absolutely no reason. All he’s done is be a great leader, a great player. I’m so proud of him and pumped up that I get another one with him this year.”
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Purdy unfailingly credits his faith win or lose, and the biggest win of his life was no different.
“I’ve never been the biggest, the fastest or the strongest,” Purdy said. “I feel like I’ve always had to fight for what I get but God’s always given me an opportunity . . . getting drafted last, all you need is an opportunity. When I’m down 17 at half, I’m thinking, ‘All right, God, you’ve taken me here. Win or lose I’m going to glorify you.’ That’s my peace. That’s the joy, the steadfastness. That’s where I get it from. And that’s the honest truth.
“I leaned into that, and sure enough we were able to come back.”
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) celebrates after a Detroit Lions fumble in the third quarter of their NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)