On Conference Championship Sunday, both No. 1 seeds were on the cusp of losing. The difference between the AFC’s top seed and the NFC’s top seed was the San Francisco 49ers capitalized on their opponent’s mistakes.
You’ll read all week about how lucky the Niners were to come back, citing Brandon Aiyuk’s 51-yard catch and multiple dropped passes by the Detroit Lions.
Nobody will mention the missed field goal by Jake Moody in the first half or how lousy the 49ers tackling was in the first half, leading directly to multiple scores for the Lions. There was also a throw to Aiyuk in the first half that was an outright drop that would’ve been a first down and likely led to points.
The offense scored on all five of its possessions in the second half. The defense turned Detroit over twice on downs, coming up with critical stops.
Coming into Sunday, knowing both the Baltimore Ravens and the Niners would trail in the second half by double-digits, you would have been crazy to say the bigger playmaker under center would be Brock Purdy and not Lamar Jackson.
On the brink of elimination, Purdy went 13-for-16 in the second half for 174 yards and a touchdown, with a passer rating 25 points shy of perfect at 132.8. And those numbers still don’t tell the whole story of Purdy's impact in the season's biggest moments.
Purdy good sack avoidance
I’d argue that avoiding sacks is right up there with accuracy for quarterbacks. Head coach Kyle Shanahan can call the best plays possible, but at some point, the pass rush will win. It’s inevitable. They get paid on the other side of the ball too.
Most of us could agree that Lamar was the regular season MVP. But watching both home teams trailing, Purdy’s ability to make plays with his legs elevated the offense.
Nothing will if the NFC Championship game doesn’t shake the narrative that Purdy’s a game manager. We’ve hammered home all year that Brock is a gunslinger who plays with more recklessness than caution.
He’s a difference-maker who understands he has a receiving core capable of winning 1-on-1. On 3rd & 4, there isn’t a game manager in the world who attempts this throw:
There were several examples throughout the game where Brock used his legs to buy time. Sometimes, like in the play above, the wideout assisted Purdy.
While most of his magic was saved for the second half, the 49ers’ first score doesn’t happen without the legs of Purdy. Here, he scans the field, buys just enough time, and sees Kyle Juszczyk on the other side of the field for an explosive play.
These are the types of plays most quarterbacks make and find themselves on highlight reels on TV. But those two weren’t Purdy's best plays in this game on the run.
For my money, this next play was Purdy’s finest. There was an unblocked edge rusher — the same blitz from the nickel that Baker Mayfield took a sack on the week prior — and instead of a drive-killing sack, Brock Houdini pulled a rabbit out of his hat, escaped left, and found Kyle Juszczyk for a first down.
We could very well be talking about free agency or the NFL Draft this morning without Purdy’s knack for avoiding sacks.
The kid can run
Tight end George Kittle had a funny quote postgame when describing Purdy’s scrambles. Kittle said, “He scampers. You ever see one of those water dragons run across the water? That’s what I imagine.”
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel said, “I don’t think too many people know how fast and elusive Brock is until he takes off running.”
Brock scrambled three times for 52 yards and three first downs. Quarterback rating is a stat that includes quarterback runs, and Purdy’s QBR in the second half was 99.1. So, close to flawless since 100 is the highest score you can get.
Purdy was the only quarterback to crack Next Gen Stats’ top 20 fastest ball carriers from Championship weekend. He was 20th at 17.18 mph.
That time came on a 21-yard scramble on 2nd & 11. Once again, everybody is covered. Purdy recognizes the defense is in man coverage.
If you watch the top of the screen, No. 32 looks like he has an angle, but Brock’s burst caught him by surprise.
That wouldn’t be the last time Purdy made the Lions pay with his legs. Not only did he run through an arm tackle on 3rd & 4, but he outran the angle of a linebacker, which all but sealed the game for the 49ers.
Sunday’s game was the difference between having a quarterback who could create outside the structure and one who couldn’t. Accounting for every play mentioned where Purdy scrambled, he added 10.6 EPA.
In layperson’s terms, Purdy added ten points to the scoreboard with his mobility. That’s not a game manager. That’s the definition of a playmaker — something the 49ers desperately needed to come back and win both playoff games.
When you put all the plays together, it’s a thing of beauty:
All of the plays Brock Purdy made in the NFC Championship by buying time with his legs to throw it downfield, beating the blitz, scrambling, or all of the above. pic.twitter.com/OFMuBVQSQu— KP (@KP_Show) January 29, 2024
The 49ers need one more heroic performance from Purdy to take down one of the greatest quarterbacks this game has seen.