Last week when I wrote this column, I talked about how I was worried. Looking back, I think a big portion of the worry stemmed from having such high expectations in the first place. The floor for the 49ers is incredibly high - we know this team can reach the playoffs and win a few rounds. We already know that. But what about the ceiling? Can they reach the next level in order to get past the Final Boss AFC QBs that they’ll face in the Super Bowl? What does that ceiling look like? Or have we already seen that peak?
Within half a quarter of play, the 49ers told that voice in my head to shut the hell up. We all felt the vibe shifting once Nick Bosa signed a few days before the game, but I felt it officially reach a new place once that 199-1 yard stat flashed up late in the first half.
It was more than just the sheer numerical dominance - it was the fact that Bosa, the best player on the team, was having a quiet game (by his standards). We were getting baseline, middle-range, average-outcome Bosa, a version of Bosa we can reasonably expect every game he’s healthy for. The rest of the defense is so good that the best version of Bosa isn’t even needed - we were seeing the floor for the defense, on display.
And there’s still upside. Over the course of the season, we can still expect young players to keep getting better (Drake???), new players to continue getting in sync with the system (The Gravedigger Era got off to a nice start), and with 41M in cap room, there’s still moves that can be made. This upcoming game against the Rams will give us a better sense of how much Week 1 was them being that good and the Steelers offense playing terribly.
But make no mistake: the standard has been set. This was the team we were promised for a long time, and last Sunday, we saw it deliver on ~1/20th of its promise. We need to see that 19 or 20 more times, and if Brock plays the 20th game of the season the way he’s played the first… we’re in good shape.
Before Week 1, I always viewed Brock as a guy that sets a high floor for the offense with not as high of a ceiling. After Week 1, I’m starting to come around to the fact that his brain isn’t just good enough to maintain a high floor - his brain is good enough to actually raise the ceiling of the offense.
Another example of 49ers Brock Purdy manipulating defenses with his eyes that leads to Aiyuk touchdown— Brad (@Graham_SFN) September 14, 2023
Purdy sells PA, his entire body language shows he wants to go to Deebo and it moves the safety out of the zone which makes Aiyuk wide-open after he cooked Peterson pic.twitter.com/LHf1tpe1Kg
It took me a while. Quarterbacks with elite physical traits can you make you forget about the mistakes every time their tangibles flash, but quarterbacks that win with their brain need to prove their intangibles over and over again for you to believe it’s not a fluke? The same brain can ascend into peak flow states and can descend into confusion and despair. The human mind is mercurial - you can have an on day or an off day, but legs will always be able to run 4.3 and arms will always be able to blast 80 yards.
But the brain can solve problems that the body can’t, and after Week 1, I saw several things in Brock’s game that feel both repeatable and ceiling-raising.
He’s showing that he can improvise on the run.
This is NASTY work by 49ers Brock Purdy— Brad (@Graham_SFN) September 11, 2023
He knows there is a free-rusher the entire time and baits him to an angle then bails out, flips hips on the move to the left and hits Deebo Samuel (phenomenal catch) pic.twitter.com/XqHiWDhKZI
He’s showing that he can hit deep shots.
This Brock Purdy-Brandon Aiyuk 19 yard touchdown had the lowest completion probability (16.5%) of any throw in Week 1, per NextGenStats.pic.twitter.com/dEXqmQm9bx— Steph Sanchez (@Steph49K) September 12, 2023
Those two plays answered the biggest questions I had about him. He can go beyond the “Jimmy G” offense and can actually think on his feet and find the holes before they even emerge. Now, I’ve stopped worrying and I’ve learned to love the Brock. He’s reaching escape velocity on his way out of the “small sample size” critique.
It took me nine games because Brock’s just not my type - I’ve always wanted a toolsy guy, one of those dudes that the AFC contenders all have. But he’s shown that he’s Kyle Shanahan’s type, striking an impossible balance between being Kyle’s computer on the field and going off-script when needed.
He’s showing that he can combine the mobility Jimmy never showed with the consistency/accuracy/decisiveness that Trey never showed, and that means we might see something out of the Shanahan 49ers offense we’ve never seen before. We’ve seen Kyle work with his quarterbacks (Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins) rather than in spite of them (The playoff game against Green Bay in 2019…), but never with this level of talent across the board, all this bought in.
The next part of this that is fascinating to me is that Brock seems like a smart and confident guy. He has no problem being the humble robot that had to be always perfect…. As Mr Irrelevant. With every passing day, he’s making himself more relevant. His upward trajectory is no longer continuing at an incremental pace - it’s starting to compound, as his sample size evolves into a reputation.
And as the season goes on, his voice will grow. I’m really interested to see how their dynamic evolves. In the high-pressure moments, does Brock say something to Kyle’s face?
We might never learn that, unless a Marcus Thompson type is able to pry deep much after the facts. But the tension and relationship between QB and coach has always been the most volatile part of the Kyle Shanahan experience and if they play as loose and confident as they did against the Steelers, it feels less like Kyle is bringing the best out of Purdy as much as Purdy is bringing the best out of Kyle.
Kyle stole it and used it to convert this 4th down to Kittle pic.twitter.com/kVifvicVzR— Brad (@Graham_SFN) September 11, 2023
In the meanwhile, I’m fully all the way in now. I’m now a Brock defender. I’m starting him in fantasy. I might buy his jersey. Somebody on Twitter was wondering how the hell Brock is listed at 220 pounds and I immediately responded, “have you seen his quads??”. He’s our guy, and it’s only going up from here. Ahead of Week 2, the vibes are Brock-solid.