Remember back in the summer when quarterback Jalen Hurts was the great unknown? No one outside of the NovaCare Complex was certain if Hurts was a franchise quarterback or just another guy, borderline between starter and career backup.
When the Eagles opened camp on July 26, Hurts was the designated starting quarterback. No one took a quarterback competition with Gardner Minshew seriously.
The Eagles were ready to move forward with Hurts. If he didn’t work out, well, they had two first-round draft picks in the 2023 draft to find his replacement.
On the day Eagles camp opened, your Philadelphia Phillies and Aaron Nola were pounded by the visiting Atlanta Braves, 6-3. The Phillies dropped to 50-47, 10 games behind the Mets in the NL East.
Philadelphia’s entire sports world has changed since that day.
WHO IS BROCK PURDY?
Compare Hurts’ previous uncertain status to 49ers third-string quarterback Brock Purdy. He was less than unknown; he was the final player selected in the draft, out of Iowa State. He hoped to latch onto the practice squad, learn under coach Kyle Shanahan, and get snacks for the veterans.
That’s the life of “Mr. Irrelevant,” the 262nd overall pick.
From the Sporting News: “Purdy showed good accuracy and a nice deep arm, but his underrated appealing assets were his smarts and mobility.
“Scouts liked the foundation and intangibles, but were concerned that his mechanics and delivery would be obstacles against stiffer NFL defenses. The physical and mental skills were enough to put him on the late draft watch.”
There were eight quarterbacks picked before Purdy in the 2022 draft. Kenny Pickett was picked 20th overall by the Steelers and considered the best quarterback in this class.
Injuries to starting quarterbacks Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo left the Niners with few options other than to elevate Purdy to the starter on Dec. 11.
With a third-string quarterback, conventional wisdom said the Niners’ strong season would fizzle. They were 8-4. With Purdy under center, the Niners beat Tom Brady and the Bucs that day, 35-7.
The entire Bay Area sports world has changed since that day.
PURDY IS 7-0
Purdy has started seven games, and the Niners have won all seven. The Niners have a strong roster, perhaps equal to the Eagles. They have an excellent ground game, receivers and second-team All-Pro tight end George Kittle.
Purdy has Christian McCaffrey in the backfield and Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk at receiver. The offensive line has provided Purdy with solid protection.
San Francisco has been the NFL’s hottest team for over a month. The Niners haven’t lost since Oct. 23, winning 12 consecutive games.
In a real twist, ESPN reported that Garoppolo (broken foot) has an “outside chance” of playing in Sunday’s NFC title game at Philadelphia. If Jimmy G. can return, the guess is he would be the backup to Purdy. Josh Johnson was the backup in the divisional win over Dallas on Sunday.
San Francisco is fifth in offense, eighth in rushing, and 14th in passing. The Niners average 26.5 points per game, sixth in the NFL.
The Niners have the No. 1-ranked defense. They are second against the rush and 11th against the pass. They allow the fewest points per game at 16.3.
Teams don’t get this far without capable quarterback play. Purdy has done more than keep the seat warm. He could be the Niners’ starter next season.
The 49ers have won five Super Bowls. Four were won with Joe Montana at quarterback and the fifth by Steve Young. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
History has shown the Super Bowl can be won by quarterbacks who aren’t going to the Hall of Fame. Nick Foles always will be a legend in Philly, but an induction into Canton is another story.
Eagles fans have to hope Purdy doesn’t morph into another Foles.
Against Dallas in the divisional round, the Niners scored one touchdown and four field goals in their 19-12 victory. Purdy completed 19-of-29 passes for 214 yards. These are not Montana numbers, but they didn’t have to be.
San Francisco intercepted Dak Prescott twice and held Dallas to one touchdown and two field goals. Each game is different and each match-up is, too. Niners All-Pro defensive end Nick Bosa had two tackles against Dallas and was barely a factor.
With such a strong defense, the Niners are counting on Purdy not to lose Sunday’s NFC title game against the Eagles. Philly, the league leader in sacks, will come after Purdy hard, try to rattle him and force him into mistakes — exactly the Niners’ strategy against Hurts.
It’s an intriguing quarterback match-up. When one emerges Sunday evening and heads to the Super Bowl, the sports world will undergo another change. It’s one guy few had faith in versus another guy nobody wanted.