SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- By the time San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy took the first snap in his first NFL start on Sunday, expectations had reached a fever pitch.
Playing quarterback for the Niners is one of the toughest, most high-profile jobs in sports, and Purdy's solid outing in relief last week against the Miami Dolphins only generated more excitement that the final pick in the 2022 NFL draft could step in and the Niners wouldn't miss a beat. Not much changed for Purdy during the week, other than the fact that he got all the reps with the starting offense.
So when Purdy came to the line of scrimmage on the game's opening drive, he surveyed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense, saw something he didn't like and yelled "Can, can, can" to change the play from run to pass. Multiple Niners shifted, but nobody blocked safety Keanu Neal, who ran in free for a sack.
"Wrong audible," Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said, smiling.
But as Purdy showed last week, when his fourth-down interception effectively served as a punt, even when he makes a mistake, it turns into a net positive. Officials flagged Neal for unnecessary roughness, and a 9-yard loss became a 15-yard gain.
"It was a hard hit," Purdy said. "I was in the wrong play actually, so that was on me, but honestly it felt good to sort of just get hit and just feel like I was in the game, and I was like, OK. So it sort of turned out to be a good thing.”
It was the first of many good things for Purdy and the Niners in Sunday's 35-7 throttling of the Bucs. Purdy put together a first half for the ages, going 14-of-18 for 185 yards with two touchdown passes and a 2-yard rushing score, which made him only the second quarterback since 1950 to throw for two scores and run for one in the first half of his first NFL start.
Purdy netted zero passing yards after halftime, but only because the game was already out of hand by the time the second half began. And while the Niners have maintained that Purdy -- who took over last week when Jimmy Garoppolo broke his left foot -- can hold the fort and lead them where they want to go, Purdy looked like far more than a game manager in the opening 30 minutes Sunday.
In last week's win against Miami, the Dolphins dialed up blitzes on 13 of Purdy's 40 dropbacks. He handled the pressure well, but took three sacks and mostly capitalized on check-down opportunities to average just 4.6 yards per dropback.
That experience seemed to pay off Sunday, as the Bucs pressured Purdy. But instead of checking it down for short, easy gains, Purdy made the Bucs pay for sending extra rushers. On both of his touchdown passes, Purdy escaped from a rusher, created space to throw and hit a pass-catcher more than 20 yards downfield. One went to wideout Brandon Aiyuk for a 32-yard touchdown and the other went to running back Christian McCaffrey for a 27-yard score.
All told, Purdy was 6-of-7 for 108 yards with two scores when under duress and 5-of-5 for 117 yards and two touchdowns when throwing 10 or more yards downfield, and he did not take a sack.
"We had a couple of them in the past few weeks where he's moving and making somebody miss," Aiyuk said. "You just find spots knowing he's going to have the opportunity and give you an opportunity to continue to make plays on a scramble drill or on a broken play. He can make guys miss on the edge and get outside to keep plays alive."
Purdy said that he doesn't necessarily look for a big play when he's able to escape pressure but has made it a point to tell his pass-catchers to keep moving because he has the ability to make things happen in those situations.
"Just in the back of my head it's make the guy miss, what's the play still, where are guys going to be, and then if I'm on the run for good, it’s who's the first guy I can see open," Purdy said. "I definitely talked to our guys like I can scramble and do different things off schedule, so always look alive kind of thing."
Purdy's ability to handle that pressure is no surprise to the Niners. As Sunday's opening half wore on, Levi's Stadium broke out into loud "Purd-y, Purd-y, Purd-y" chants. When his first start was over, Purdy had a quick hello with Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (a moment Purdy called "pretty cool") and made his way over to share in the moment with his family.
What a moment. @brockpurdy13 and his family following his first career win as a starter. pic.twitter.com/ztxXSFE84q— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 12, 2022
During the game, video of Purdy's father, Shawn, getting emotional after his touchdown toss to McCaffrey began making the rounds.
Brock Purdy's dad was emotional after that last TD 🙌— NFL (@NFL) December 11, 2022
📺: #TBvsSF on FOX
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/Y8d9nuZcHK pic.twitter.com/PNqAqB8T5O
"The emotions on their face and just the way they look down at me from up on the railing, it just means a lot because just throughout my whole life, the ups and downs of playing quarterback in general, high school and college, they're the people at home that just believe in you and they always see the best in you," Purdy said.
On Sunday, everyone else got to see for themselves.