Can Brock Purdy be the first rookie quarterback to win the Super Bowl?

During the 2022 NFL season, there have been few stories as remarkable as that of San Francisco 49ers strategist Brock Purdywho is heading to the playoffs with a golden opportunity to become the first rookie quarterback to lead a team to Super Bowl glory.

Purdy has been a revelation since being thrust into the spotlight as a starting quarterback following the broken foot suffered by Jimmy Garoppolo in the Week 13 win over Miami Dolphins.

It was meant to be Trey Lance‘s in 2022, but with the third overall pick in 2021 taken out of the equation with a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2, there are pertinent questions asking if it’s now Purdy’s long term, and they are deserved given how he played in an extraordinary start to his career.

Belying his status as the final pick in the 2022 draft, Purdy has confidently piloted one of football’s best offenses, with the 49ers averaging a league-leading 33.6 points per game since becoming the starter. full time.

Along with ensuring the 49ers beat the Dolphins after Garoppolo left in the first quarter, Purdy has since won each of his first five starts, helping the NFC champion West Niners end the regular season on a 10-game winning streak. .

With the 49ers victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 18, in which he threw for three touchdowns, Purdy became the third rookie quarterback to earn his first five starts, after Ben Roethlisberger (earned the first 13 starts in 2004) and Mike Kruczek (six first in 1968).

He is the third player in NFL history with at least two touchdown passes in each of his first five starts, joining Dan Marino and Billy Volek as he is only the second rookie with at least two touchdowns. in six straight games. The other was Justin Herbert in 2020.

Purdy’s passer rating in his first five starts of 119.0 is second only to Kurt Warner (131.4) in 1999. Although Warner was not a rookie, he went on to lead the Rams from St Louis to a Super Bowl title, winning the Super Bowl MVP in the process.

Purdy’s support system as he seeks to make league history is excellent. San Francisco’s offense is stacked with playmakers, with the addition of Christian McCaffrey to a group that already included Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aïyuk and George Kittle have a transformative impact on Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

San Francisco’s plethora of weapons is a big reason Purdy entered Week 18 ranked fourth among quarterbacks with at least 100 plays in expected passing situations in Efficiency Versus Expected (EVE). Prior to the Cardinals’ blowout, Purdy was averaging 1.47 yards above expectations in early passing situations.

With a defense led by Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa Establishing themselves as the best in the NFL, the 49ers entered Week 18 ranked first overall in EVE.

By that measure, the 49ers are the best team in the NFL, but history is firmly against Purdy’s success in his quest to guide them to a sixth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

Nineteen rookies started the playoffs in the Super Bowl era, going 9-19 in 28 games.

Although no rookie quarterback has lifted the Lombardi, the performances of a selection of those who entered the heat of the playoffs in their first season offer a glimpse of what could come to Purdy, as he prepares to start his playoff career against the Seattle Seahawks the Saturday.

Ben Roethlisberger (2004)

Roethlisberger is perhaps the best parallel we can draw for Purdy given their shared place in the NFL history books.

The Pittsburgh Steelers big had a whole different draft experience in 2004, playing the role of frustrated spectator until the 11th pick as the famous Eli Manning-Philip Rivers saga ran its course.

Roethlisberger made the San Diego Chargers and New York Giants initially seem foolish not to have valued him higher, helping a Steelers juggernaut team to a 15-1 record and the number one seed in the AFC.

Still, his first postseason proved difficult for Big Ben, with Roethlisberger completing just 57.4 percent of his passes for 407 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions, recording a 61.3 passer rating.

Three of his five picks came in the AFC Championship game loss to the New England Patriotswhose opportunistic defensive performances inspired them to a third Super Bowl appearance — and ultimately a third Super Bowl title — in four seasons.

Purdy has the advantage of having the league’s premier defense on his side, and the top seed Philadelphia Eagles appears to be the only 49ers-style team that possesses the ability to give him similar problems to those Roethlisberger experienced in January 2005.

The NFL has changed dramatically since Bill Belichick’s defense denied Roethlisberger a chance at history, but the Steelers’ Conference championship game woes of 18 years ago are a barely necessary reminder of the football protection value.

Purdy, who has 13 touchdowns for four interceptions, has done a largely impressive job of that, and if he continues like that, the 49ers will be perfectly positioned for a deep run. If the Niners fail, Purdy could look forward to Roethlisberger’s sophomore season, which saw him lead the Steelers to Super Bowl XL victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

Joe Flacco (2008) & Mark Sanchez (2009)

Flacco and Sanchez are also decent examples that could be a guide to how Purdy’s playoff journey might unfold.

Unlike Purdy, they were both heavily drafted quarterbacks, but are comparable in that they had the advantage of backing casts built for the January success. The two made it all the way to the AFC Championship game.

Flacco didn’t have to do much to get there with the 2008 Baltimore Ravens. In his three playoff games, Flacco completed just 44 percent of his passes for 437 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, earning him a passer rating of just 50.8.

Still, the Ravens managed to pull it off by relying on third-ranked defense and fourth-ranked running play, relieving Flacco. Indeed, Baltimore gave up just 19 points in the first two rounds of the playoffs. It wasn’t until the Ravens faced a top-notch Pittsburgh Steelers defense in the title game that Flacco’s shortcomings as a rookie came to a head.

A year later, Sanchez was doing better with the New York Jetspassing just over 60% of his passes for 539 yards, four touchdowns and a pair of picks, posting a passer rating of 92.7.

Although his numbers were better, the formula was the same, with the Jets riding the dominant defense of Rex Ryan and a rushing offense that led the NFL in yards per game to the conference championship.

Flacco then enjoyed one of the big playoffs of the 2012 season by leading the Ravens to glory, beating the 49ers in the Super Bowl, but Purdy will have plans to comfortably surpass Sanchez’s accomplishments after the electric start to his career. .

He thrived by kicking the ball into the middle zone of the pitch. On throws between 10 and 20 yards, Purdy delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball 83.7 percent of the time. It’s just after Andy Dalton (85.6) among quarterbacks with at least 20 of those attempts.

But with McCaffrey, Samuel and Elijah Mitchell giving the 49ers arguably the most versatile backfield in the NFL, one in which McCaffrey and Samuel are threats to throw the ball, catch it out of the backfield or line up in the training as a receiver, San Francisco can significantly ease the pressure on Purdy by relying on the ground game and short control shots that always have the potential to turn into big plays.

On top of that, the defence, which finished the season with the second-best pass rate (35.9%) in the league, consistently showed their ability to put the team on their toes despite showing signs of vulnerability in recent times. weeks.

Purdy’s early success indicates he has a career superior to Flacco and Sanchez, but the 49ers could handle him very similarly to how they were handled in the playoffs during his first playoff experience. .

Russell Wilson (2012)

One of the best rookie quarterback performances in the playoffs came from a player who was previously the thorn in the side of the 49ers with the Seahawks.

Wilson won the Super Bowl in just his second season, but the groundwork for that run was laid during a superb rookie year.

The Seahawks star was excellent in his first postseason, completing 62.9% of his passes for 572 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He posted a 102.4 passer rating, leading the Seahawks to a victory over Washington at FedEx Field in the Wild Card Round before falling short against the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round.

Wilson had a full regular season under his belt and was a better athlete than Purdy at this point in his career.

Still, the 49ers are hoping the reps Purdy has under his belt to calmly lead them through the stretch run will be enough for him to perform at a level close to Wilson’s, but with expectations of significantly better results.

Uplifting Tales

As the overall record indicates, a rookie quarterback’s start in the playoffs usually ends badly. matt ryan threw two interceptions in his 2008 playoff debut and Dalton was knocked out three times as he and the Cincinnati Bengals suffered from Wild Card round heartache in 2011. Andrew Luck led the Foals in the playoffs in 2012, but his playoff arc saw him post a passer rating of just 59.8.

Robert Griffin III’s lone playoff appearance in 2012 ended with a knee injury as he was beaten by Wilson and the Seahawks in a rookie battle, while in 2018 Lamar Jackson was confounded by a Los Angeles Chargers defense that frequently fielded seven defensive backs to contain the dual threat and limit it to a 48.3 completion percentage.

Mac Jones was the last rookie to start a playoff game last January, but was intercepted twice trying unsuccessfully to help the Patriots trail a Buffalo Bills team that stunned them 47-17.

Even if Purdy maintains his stellar level of play, there’s a chance that in the playoff lottery it still won’t be good enough.

Indeed, Dak Prescott threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns for the Dallas Cowboys in his playoff debut in the 2016 Divisional Round and still fell short as he was beaten by Aaron Rodgers in a thriller. 34-31.

This game perfectly illustrates why the playoffs are a different animal. The stakes rise and the standard can also reach a point where a player’s best is often not good enough. In a Wild Card game against a Seahawks team he had no problem beating in the regular season, it will soon become apparent if Purdy has what it takes to bring this Cinderella quarterback story to an end. of fairy tale.

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