College Basketball

Kawakami: Brock Purdy’s perfect throw and the electric sense of instant 49ers history

SEATTLE — It was the perfect pass, and yes, it was shocking, too. Perfectly shocking. Shockingly perfect?

“I couldn’t believe he was throwing it,” Kyle Shanahan said later, with a tiny and slightly pained smile.

It was the best pass of Brock Purdy’s NFL career — truly breathtaking to watch in person — it silenced Lumen Field, it sealed this crucial 31-13 victory for the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday, and it was the surest sign yet that Purdy can do anything necessary to get this team to the biggest games and win them.

But it also came not long after Purdy threw one of the worst passes of his life, which brought the Seattle Seahawks back into this game and set up all of the drama in the first place. It felt like a little piece of history happening, right then and there, something that will be recounted in documentaries and long books.

You knew it when you saw it. All of Purdy’s teammates sure knew it. Shanahan’s giddy reaction was evidence that he felt the magnitude of this, too. But Purdy, of course, is the last person who’ll ever play into that kind of rhetoric, which is probably why he’s able to do this kind of stuff in the first place, how he could follow his brutal deflected pick six early in the third quarter with that majestic 28-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Aiyuk a few series later.

“It’s not like, alright, I messed up and I’ve gotta prove to myself or to my team that I can make a big play to get us back in,” Purdy said. “It’s nothing like that. We’d actually ran the ball really well that drive. For myself, it was alright, be smart with the ball, take what the defense gives me.

“So we sorta had a rollout, setup play and I just went through my progression. I felt the safety come down on the right side just enough for BA to get behind him and I ripped it. Obviously looking back, there’s a guy open underneath on the checkdown that was open, too, that would’ve been a big gain and for us to eat the clock up and stuff. But went through the progression, trusted in BA being there and just let it rip.”

Aiyuk had a slightly more succinct description: “That’s what you call a dot.”

But as Shanahan pointed out, Purdy wasn’t supposed to throw it to Aiyuk against that Seahawks coverage. Safety Quandre Diggs was sitting right there in the middle of the field and moving deeper. The window was going to be too tight. George Kittle was wide open on a shorter route. Purdy had to throw it hard to beat Devon Witherspoon on one side and also float it over Diggs. It was almost impossible. One degree off and it would’ve been picked off.

And the last thing Purdy should possibly do after throwing that earlier interception was to throw another one with the 49ers already in position to kick a field goal, right?

Right?????

“He does that pretty consistently — he’s always, always trying to get that one in,” Shanahan said. “Very rarely does he check it down and you tell him he missed the deep one. He looks at it that way.

“Actually, he proved to us while the ball was in the air that it was the right decision.”

But while the ball was in the air …

“Oh yeah, we’re all holding our breath as soon as he lets it go ’cause (Diggs) was so deep,” Shanahan said. “But Brock’s got some touch and he was able to throw it over him. We took the safety out of there with a route, so he knew if he could get over him there was no one else left. He made the throw.”

Purdy, as has been mentioned almost every day of his 49ers starting career, isn’t known for his arm strength, yet that throw was a 95 mph fastball by any measure. He’s been denigrated as a “system quarterback,” but that decision was entirely outside of anything Shanahan wanted him to do. He’s a calm, thoughtful guy, but that play was pure guts and adrenaline. He’s supposedly a safe-and-sane game manager, but he’s also the guy who threw an across-his-body TD two weeks ago (also to Aiyuk, there’s a theme here).

Purdy has critiqued and analyzed every play of his life, and yet where in the heck did Thursday’s throw come from?

That was an All-Pro throw. That was, dare I say it, the kind of throw that could win an NFC Championship Game or Super Bowl. It’s the kind of throw that could’ve beaten the Kansas City Chiefs in February 2020. That was a throw that no 49ers QB since Steve Young or Joe Montana could’ve made. Full stop.

That’s why one of his quieter statistical games (completing 21 of his 30 attempts for 209 yards with the one touchdown and one interception for an 86.7 passer rating) still seemed like another threshold Purdy moment. Even though all the back-and-forth about his ranking and his status is beyond tiresome at this point, that kind of throw — and the 49ers’ 8-3 record and hold on first place in the NFC West — puts everything on the table.

“I’m definitely not going to say the wrong words … not your question but the talk of that stuff is so ridiculous,” Shanahan said when I asked him if Purdy is a Super Bowl-level QB now. “The words ‘elite,’ ‘Super Bowl quarterback.’ I mean, this is the NFL, you’ve got to have a really good football team to even talk about having a chance to get there. When you have a really good football team, you better have a really good quarterback. When you do that, you still better have luck with injuries, you still gotta play good defense. You’ve gotta do everything.

“There’s also been a lot of great quarterbacks who haven’t won Super Bowls. And the ones who do, don’t win them on their own. They’ve gotta be on a good team and they’ve gotta have good defenses. There’s so many things that go into it, so I always kind of hate that conversation.”

There also was that earlier throw, which is part of the full Purdy picture, too. Shanahan partly blamed himself for giving Purdy a “double-call” from their own 4-yard line early in the third quarter — two plays for Purdy to pick between depending on the coverage the defense showed at the line of scrimmage. But the Seahawks disguised what they were doing, which put Purdy into a bad play once Seattle rotated out of the look. The result was bad, but that Shanahan gave Purdy that option deep in their own territory was a sign of confidence.

“That was an unfortunate play,” Shanahan said. “But didn’t faze him at all. He came right back and made a helluva play to seal it.”

The 12-yard pick six by Jordyn Brooks brought the Lumen crowd back into the game. It closed it to 24-10 after the 49ers had totally dominated the first half. It could’ve wholly shaken Purdy, who, after all, is still in his first full season as an NFL starting QB. But no, not this guy.

“Ice in his veins,” Christian McCaffrey said.

After the 49ers’ defense held the Seahawks to just a field goal over their next two possessions, Purdy and the offense got the ball back again. They knew the defense was playing well. The 49ers just needed to eat some time and get one more score. It didn’t have to be dramatic. It shouldn’t have been dramatic.

And yet …

“Obviously, it sucked going through it, gotta learn from it,” Purdy said of the interception. “But in terms of who I am playing this position, that can’t change. That’s what I had to keep telling myself.”

Or he could just keep throwing perfect, shocking, stunning, game-clinching passes. Purdy’s made a lot of excellent throws already in his short career. He’s got great teammates. But he’s put himself in this spot. He put himself in a bad spot Thursday, and then he elevated to a higher place a quarter later. How much higher can he go? How far can he take the 49ers? We’re seeing it. Purdy just keeps rising.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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(Photo: Jane Gershovich / Getty Images)

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