Mr. Irrelevant Enters NFC Championship


San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy | Image by Terrell Lloyd, 49ers.com

The inspiring story of 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy continues into Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The rookie out of Iowa State, this year’s “Mr. Irrelevant” as the final pick in the NFL draft, has exceeded all expectations thanks to the players around him and his ability to make plays on the field while avoiding costly mistakes.

“Yes, he’s been unbelievable with that,” head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters earlier this week.

“I think that’s the No. 1 thing he’s done. And to be able to be as good with the ball as he has while still making a number of the plays that he has, that’s definitely the thing I’ve been most impressed with.”

Most players drafted that late do not stick around for long in this league, and even fewer end up with a chance to propel their teams to the Super Bowl.

That is the exact opportunity Purdy has in front of him: become the first-ever rookie to take his team to football’s biggest game.

Purdy was an afterthought coming into the season.

San Francisco had come up just short of the ultimate goal in two of the past three seasons, losing the Super Bowl to the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of the 2019-20 season and falling in the NFC Championship to the Los Angeles Rams a season ago.

All the headlines in the offseason were about how the 49ers could get over the hump and what they should do at quarterback.

The team had decided to give third-year Trey Lance a shot as the permanent starter despite having a successful, more experienced player in Jimmy Garoppolo, who had helped lead the team to a Super Bowl.

Quarterback-needy teams started checking in on Garoppolo, and many media experts expected him to be traded.

Luckily, no trades came to fruition as the quarterback market dried up. Lance would make it through just over a game with largely disappointing results before suffering a season-ending injury and forcing the team to turn things over to Garoppolo.

Garoppolo went 8-3 in 11 starts before he, too, suffered a season-ending injury, paving the way for Mr. Irrelevant to take center stage.

Purdy made the first start of his career in a 35-7 drubbing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 14 and has improved in almost every game since then.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time where a team’s third quarterback comes in and makes the team better,” Fox’s Kevin Burkhardt told the 49ers’ midweek pregame show ahead of last week’s matchup against the Cowboys.

“What he’s been able to do, coming into this situation — which is obviously a tough situation with Jimmy G getting hurt — has been nothing short of incredible.”

The rookie is unbeaten (7-0) early in his career and passed a big test last week against a Dallas Cowboys defense that led the league in causing turnovers, but he has another elite opponent to deal with on Sunday,

“He’s making the plays that he needs to,” Eagles defensive end Josh Sweat said earlier this week.

“And I mean, we can’t look at him as a rookie. We’ve got to look at him as a playmaker, the guy that’s getting it done for them. He’s helping them out a lot, so you can’t look at him like a rookie.”

“He extends plays while he’s making the right decisions. He’s got a great offense with him to manage that as well, so he’s done all the right decisions so far,” added Eagles linebacker T.J. Edwards.

The Philadelphia Eagles boast one of the NFL’s best defenses and collective rosters. In recent years, their secondary has been an Achilles’ heel, but this year’s pass defense is the best in the NFL and finished tied for the third-most interceptions.

The Eagles also have an MVP candidate quarterback on the other side in Houston native Jalen Hurts.

Hurts is another quarterback about whom experts had doubts when he entered the league in 2020. However, the third-year quarterback has become the face of the franchise by throwing for the 10th-most yards in the league, accounting for 35 total touchdowns, and ranking among the league leaders in nearly every category.

“Any time you’re facing a quarterback that has that type of ability, you just got to be on your assignments for a full 60 minutes, which is way easier said than done,” linebacker Fred Warner told the Associated Press.

But it will not be easy for Hurts against San Francisco’s No.1-ranked defense either.

Both teams are stacked with talent and have top-ten units across the board. With so many similarities, quarterback play could become a crucial factor. Who will step up when it matters most? Is Mr. Irrelevant or the surging MVP candidate?

The Eagles and 49ers are the first of two games on Sunday. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 pm CT.

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