Sunday, June 23

Kawakami: Case closed — Brock Purdy and the 49ers are very good and only getting better

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The most important Brock Purdy Debate isn’t what you thought it was. The old arguments are done. The ridiculous discourse has been burned to bits. That part is over. Purdy is a good NFL quarterback. Case closed.

Here’s the real question in the aftermath of yet another classic Purdy game Sunday in the San Francisco 49ers’ smashing 42-10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium:

Is Purdy destined to be a Pro Bowl QB by the middle of next season, the end of this one, or could it be even sooner than that? Could it have already happened?

All this is developing before our eyes, pass by pass, touchdown by touchdown, game by game and interview by interview. All of the proof is accumulating: Matched against the No. 1-rated defense in the league, Purdy threw four more touchdown passes on Sunday, which raised his season tally to nine. He has yet to throw an interception this season. For his two-season career, he has a 22/4 TD-to-interception ratio. And oh yes, of course, the 49ers have never lost a game that Purdy both started and finished.

On Sunday, Purdy started off so hot and stayed so hot that Kyle Shanahan, who lives to call running plays, said he had to resist calling passes on just about every play. Folks, Shanahan never talks this way. Well, at least he didn’t when Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance were his starting QBs. Shanahan didn’t say this in the first set of Purdy’s starts, either. But he’s saying it now.

“Yeah, I felt that way with him all day,” Shanahan said after Purdy completed 17 of 24 passes for 252 yards and registered a 144.4 passer rating. “There wasn’t a time that I didn’t feel he was (in great rhythm). You’ve just gotta be careful when you feel that way beginning to end that you don’t just start calling too many passes. That’s the challenge of the play caller because you do too many and eventually you’re going to give (the defense) a chance to make a big play. But we felt if we were mixing enough that he was pretty ‘on.’”

Because Purdy is this good. And he’s getting better.

The key part of this is that Purdy had a tough time against the Cowboys in last season’s divisional round. The 49ers won the game 19-12, but Purdy didn’t throw a TD, completed only 65.5 percent of his passes and had a career-low (for a full game) passer rating of 87.4. Last week, Purdy openly discussed how the Cowboys’ defense disrupted him and said he’d gone over the game film frequently.

“Last year, that was probably his worst game, not to be confused with bad, but just compared to all the others,” Shanahan said. “They stopped us on a number of big plays, they kept us out of the end zone the first play of the fourth quarter. We were down there in the red zone, we had a couple chances and just missed. Just watching him today, I didn’t sense that at all. He was extremely poised when we got down there, he hit all of them right away. And didn’t turn it over.”

Purdy didn’t look uncomfortable for a single millisecond this time, leading the 49ers downfield on the first series of the game, which he concluded with the first of three TD passes to George Kittle. At halftime it was 21-7, then Purdy really caught fire, torching the Cowboys in back-to-back drives in the second half — featuring multiple pinpoint strikes deep downfield to Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel — to push the lead to 35-10.

Sometimes Purdy’s teammates semi-jokingly call him a robot, just because he seems like he’s programmed to play this position. Because he almost never does the wrong thing. And the robot keeps upgrading its software.


Brock Purdy throws a pass during the first quarter against the Cowboys. Purdy completed 17 of 24 passes for 252 yards and registered a 144.4 passer rating. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

“It was, ‘All right, they play a lot of the same guys on defense, really the same scheme,’” Purdy said after the game. “So for myself, it’s another challenge for me. I want to be better than I was last time. But was that my only motivation, my only goal this week? No. I was just doing what I was asked. I knew that the game would come to me over time, gotta get into rhythm, hit the open guys, do my part as a quarterback. Don’t try to force stuff and be a superhero. And that’s that.”

He’s only 23. He still hasn’t started a full slate of regular-season games. He’s better than Garoppolo ever was. He’s much, much better than Lance (who was on the opposite sideline Sunday as the Cowboys’ third QB). And Purdy’s arrow is only pointing up.

Did Kittle think Purdy was particularly “on” in this game?

“I think Brock’s always ‘on’ — when you see him on Wednesday, he’s on,” Kittle said. “He’s just so prepared every single day.”

Purdy delivered all of this on national TV, against Dallas’ ferocious pass rush and in front of as many critics as could possibly be assembled, waiting for him to crumble even just a tiny bit. And all he did was throw lightning strikes and make you wonder, what’s he going to be like when he has even more experience?

“Brock was a rookie last year; he got thrown into the fire at the end, not even midway, but the end of the year. You know what I’m saying?” Trent Williams said. “So the player you’re looking at now and the player you saw back in early January, late ’22, it’s a different player. The mental bank has more in it. …

“I think he’s going to continue to grow. What we’re seeing now is not where he’s going to be. He’s going to be better than that. He’s going to continue to get better every week. Our job is just to keep him upright so he can continue to develop.”

You can point out that Purdy has an amazing collection of receiving weapons, which was only underlined when the 49ers put 42 points on the Cowboys without a ton from Christian McCaffrey and Samuel. But there’s a complication in that, too. Kittle hadn’t caught a TD all season before Sunday. If Purdy sticks with one target and ignores others, there theoretically could be hurt feelings and frustrations.

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But none of that is happening on this 5-0 team, largely because every star on offense knows he’s going to get the ball eventually if he’s open. and because Purdy has accelerated everything about the 49ers’ offense since the day he took over after Garoppolo’s foot injury last December.

“Everyone wants to win, everyone knows that they’re good,” Purdy said. “So it’s going to be just a matter of time when it’s their game. This game George had touchdowns, great opportunities. But still, Deebo, BA, Christian, everyone’s contributing. … When their time comes, they know that.”

Purdy’s already on the same historic tier of 49ers QBs as Colin Kaepernick and Jeff Garcia. I think Purdy is better than both of them, but it’s close. And if he’s better than both of those guys, he’s the 49ers’ best since Steve Young. And that is saying something. At the top, every QB is measured by Super Bowls. We shall see if Purdy can lead the 49ers to this highest point. But it’s in the discussion. It’s absolutely in the discussion.

“Thirteen’s cold, man,” Kyle Juszcyzk said, referring to Purdy’s uniform number. “He’s cold. He can go out there and play with the best of them and we have all the faith in the world in him.”

The old debate is history. Brock Purdy is good. Now if you want to argue about how far he can take this and how many Super Bowls he might win … you’re onto something.

“The TK Show”: Go to Tim Kawakami’s podcast page on AppleSpotify and The Athletic app.

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(Top photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)