Purdy’s ascension no longer a surprise for 49ers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — When Brock Purdy stepped in as quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, his early success was initially seen as a surprise.

Now that the last pick in this year’s draft has kept up that level of play for three straight starts, it’s becoming expected.

Purdy joined some illustrious company with his third straight winning start with two touchdown passes, leading the 49ers to their eighth straight win in a 37-20 victory over Washington on Saturday.

Purdy’s play has ensured that the surging Niners (11-4) have shown no signs of slowing down after turning the offense over to their third-string quarterback.

San Francisco is assured of at least the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs and still have a chance to move up if Minnesota and Philadelphia falter down the stretch.

“At this point, we know who exactly who he is,” receiver Brandon Aiyuk said about Purdy. “Nobody’s surprised anymore. We know who Brock Purdy is. He came out, played a great game, controlled the offense, controlled the huddle, controlled the game.”

Purdy’s rapid ascent from an unknown Mr. Irrelevant to a key component to one of the NFC’s top contenders has been impressive.

He threw two TD passes in a relief effort of a Week 13 win against Miami and then has won his first three starts, throwing two touchdown passes in each game.

He joined Hall of Famer Kurt Warner as the only QBs since 1950 to win their first three starts, while at least two TD passes each game.

“I still have that same fire and drive as before I wasn’t playing,” Purdy said. “I want to go in and I want to prove to my teammates and earn the respect every play, every snap, every drive, that kind of mentality. So, I just got to remind myself to not lose that passion and that fire and that it’s never easy.”

Purdy has made it look easy, taking advantage of an offense that features several star playmakers and an elite play-caller in coach Kyle Shanahan.

While Purdy’s biggest responsibility is to get the ball into the hands of players such as Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle, he has also shown an ability to stretch the field.

He threw his third TD pass that traveled at least 25 yards downfield on Saturday to Kittle, one shy of the total amount of those TDs the Niners had as a team since 2020.

WHAT’S WORKING

Purdy to Kittle connection. Purdy has connected with Kittle for two touchdown passes in back-to-back games. Kittle has 10 catches for 213 yards and four TDs the past two weeks, giving him a career-high eight TD receptions on the season. Kittle is the first Niners tight end since the merger with back-to-back games with multiple TD catches. The last player to do it for San Francisco before Kittle was receiver Terrell Owens in 2002.

WHAT NEEDS WORK

Red zone offense. San Francisco got inside the 20 five times Saturday and turned those trips into only one touchdown. They got stopped on fourth down from the 15 on opening drive and settled for three field goals in the second half, including on drives that started at the Washington 11 and 25 following turnovers.

“Any time you get the ball that much in the red zone and only have one touchdown to show for it, that was disappointing,” Shanahan said.

STOCK UP

DE Nick Bosa had two more sacks and a forced fumble to burnish his candidacy for Defensive Player of the Year. Bosa leads the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks and is two shy of Aldon Smith’s franchise record set in 2012. Bosa is the fourth player since sacks became an official stat in 1982 to have at least one in 12 games in a season.

STOCK DOWN

CB Samuel Womack. The rookie was forced into action when Charvarius Ward left briefly in the second half and was immediately picked on by Washington. Womack was beaten by Terry McLaurin for a 51-yard catch in the third quarter that set up a TD for the Commanders.

INJURIES

Garoppolo got the cast off his broken foot and is in a walking boot, but there are no further updates. … WR Deebo Samuel (ankle, knee) is making progress and might be able to practice later this week. … DL Kerry Hyder (ankle) is expected to return to practice this week. … RB Elijah Mitchell (knee) is making progress and could return to practice either late this week or early next week.

KEY NUMBERS

139.7 — That’s Purdy’s passer rating on throws of at least 10 yards downfield since replacing Garoppolo. He is 21 for 29 for 476 yards, five TDs and one INT on those throws.

WHAT’S NEXT

San Francisco visits Las Vegas on Sunday.

___

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