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49ers Vibe Check: What Brock Purdy and Fargo’s Dorothy Lyon Have In Common

Beating the Lions will take the spirit of a Lyon

I caught up on Season 5 of Fargo right after the Packers game. As part of the Coen Brothers coaching tree, the Fargo universe has very similar formations across all of its playbooks. For example, in every season of Fargo and Coen Brothers movie, there’s always at least one character with a tinge of immortality. No matter the situation or circumstance, their freakish ability to survive and advance borders on supernatural.

The two most famous, award-winning examples are Billy Bob Thornton’s character in Season 1 of Fargo and Javier Bardem’s character in No Country for Old Men. They’re almost always the antagonists until Fargo S5 added a new wrinkle to the playbook. Juno Temple (Keely in Ted Lasso) plays an unassuming, wispy little woman who could MacGyver and Home Alone her way through anything in order to protect her daughter.

Hired killers with guns coming to kidnap her? She already has three booby traps planted in every corner of her house. She’ll use hairspray, lighters, and deception to survive any predicament. She’s always three steps ahead, generating a believable cover story on the spot better than ChatGPT.

Pictured: Brock scrambling for 9 yards on the TD drive

Watching the season finale so soon after the divisional game and Brock Purdy’s late-game heroics reminded me of Dorothy Lyon digging herself out of similar holes.

That’s when it hit me: they have the same aura. Dorothy’s/Brock’s minds are constantly scanning their environments to find the smallest of edges. Their preparation helps them see things before they happen, and their instincts help them improvise solutions out of thin air. Other characters in the show overlook Dot and Brock until they try to go against them.

As far as elite NFL quarterbacks’ physical traits go, Brock wasn’t born lucky. He’s here because he creates his own luck. He wins the game with his mind, but his mind isn’t like some math prodigy effortlessly solving puzzles. It’s a lively mind that figures out problems in real-time — like a jazz musician jamming, a freestyle rapper in a cipher, a comedian riffing with the crowd — a foundation of Polish belying the spectacle of chaos.

Call him a system quarterback or a game manager, sure. These descriptions aren’t entirely wrong, but they do miss key nuances and flatten him past the point of those labels meaning anything.

No coach in the world and no superstar teammate is good enough to inhabit the quarterback’s body during the hardest and most important part of the game. That presence of mind transcends any play call, game plan, or schematic wizardry.

Purdy looked as terrible as he did in his entire career for a couple of drives, and there couldn’t have been a worse time. The season’s hopes and dreams needed Brock to be completely impervious to the mental effects of his own poor play. No matter how many times the ball slipped in the rain. No matter how many missed reads and misfires and near-interceptions.

Purdy looked as good as he did in his entire career for a couple of drives, and there couldn’t have been a better time. Very few quarterbacks are capable of creating something out of nothing in these situations that mean everything. His game-winning drive stated his case that he, too, is powerful enough to generate momentum in every circumstance.

Pictured: A system QB relying on his weapons

The Packers did a great job of getting off to a good start and creating a tide of momentum early on. You can tell their game plan was on point; their players were ready to get physical, and they had zero fear. Sustaining that tide, however, is an altogether different ballgame. Once your own tide starts turning back on you, it takes a new level to turn it back once more.

A better team would have twisted the knife more effectively. Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Joe Burrow would have scored on more of those red zone opportunities. Patrick Queen or Kyle Hamilton aren’t dropping those interceptions. Justin Tucker and Harrison Butker aren’t missing that 41-yarder.

No matter how well you prepare and game plan and scheme against teams like the Ravens and Chiefs, they’ll always be able to create their own spark after - especially - you thought you’ve snuffed them out.

It was great that the 49ers got a taste of being the hunter rather than the hunted — relying on gutsiness, headiness, and what-a-mess to win rather than just supreme efficiency. You can optimize a team over a regular season, but the playoffs are such random independent events that you need an immortal, Fargo-like character to come out alive.

The AFC is full of monsters: between Patrick Malvo-mes and Lamar Chigurh-son, the Super Bowl will have at least one force of nature taking snaps for the other team. The 49ers first have to get through the Lions, who present the scariest scenario of them all… an abject failure of a season.

Pictured: Kyle Shanahan getting ready to defer

The great TV shows of the world make you forget that the protagonists are supposed to survive, no matter how much of a jam they find themselves in. Your heart is supposed to drop so it can rise back up again when the plot twist comes out of nowhere to save the day.

This year, the 49ers have been in some hairy situation that really feels like a season of Fargo. It started with the quarterback “conundrum” in training camp (turned out to be a red herring side plot... a fan-favorite minor character that gets whacked pretty early and doesn’t matter to the plot), continued through the three-game losing streak (Deebo, Trent, and Chase Young to the rescue!) to the bleakness of the Christmas game to the absurdity of the last Packers game.

Much like the 49ers, the fifth season of Fargo has a ton of star power on every level. The Fargo9ers are not without their flaws, but when you have Jon Hamm and Jennifer Carrie Leigh sharing scenes as two evil forces of nature duking it out with smirks and quips… you kinda can’t mess it up.

And sometimes Fargo goes Kyle Shanahan-cute and goes for crazy misdirections and trick plays and shit like that. A lot of times, it works quite well — high-budget action scenes and wild chases and absurd mind-bending side quests — but sometimes you do want the show to just go back to the “running game.” Put this incredible cast in the room together to just do their thing. You don’t need such elaborate dialogue or sophisticated plot devices when the actors are performing at such a high level.

This 49ers season has been a thrilling trudge toward the end game, where if they win on Sunday, they’re only halfway to their destination. The finales are always the hardest parts to nail, and if they don’t take care of business, the early successes of the season become an albatross weighing this team’s legacy down.

Here lies the 2023 49ers, the greatest underpeformers in league history. Multiple MVP candidates and they couldn’t get it done. They’ll be no different than the 2021 49ers, who weren’t even supposed to be there, or the 2022 49ers, who weren’t given a fair shot, or even the 2019 49ers, who couldn’t twist the knife and sustain momentum when they needed to.

Those seasons all equally dead, which is why in this fleeting moment before the NFC Championship game, I want to soak in this season while it’s still alive.

All I hope is that no matter what happens this Sunday and (knock on wood) two Sundays from now… we finish this season on our terms. No self-inflicted mistakes, no egregious clock management screw-ups, no freak injuries, no handoffs to Jauan Jennings. Play straight-up. Play it like the fifth season of Fargo.