Deep-ball accuracy all that separates Brock Purdy, 49ers' offense from greatness

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- For the fifth straight regular-season game with Brock Purdy as their starting quarterback, the San Francisco 49ers scored at least 30 points in a victory.

The Niners posted a hard-earned 30-23 victory over the Los Angeles Rams as the offense racked up 365 yards, including 159 on the ground. And yet, in the aftermath of their second victory to open the season, this star-studded San Francisco offense found itself focused not on what it did on Sunday but what it didn't.

"We're gonna watch this hard, we know [coach] Kyle [Shanahan] is going to come down on us hard," receiver Deebo Samuel said. "We missed a lot of opportunities out there. I feel like we left like four touchdowns out there."

To be sure, the 49ers' offense remains one of the highest-powered units in the league. With Purdy playing point guard and distributing the ball to the likes of Samuel, receiver Brandon Aiyuk, tight end George Kittle and running back Christian McCaffrey, 30 points seems like the minimum expectation. But when Purdy goes through the film of Sunday's win, he's undoubtedly going to lament the throws he missed.

A deep ball down the right sideline to Aiyuk. One over the middle to wideout Jauan Jennings. Another deep throw down the left side for Samuel. All incomplete. All overthrown. They're the throws that can transform a really good offense into a great one.

"Those are on me," said Purdy, who denied that the misses had anything to do with his surgically repaired right elbow. "I've got to do better. I've got to hit them in stride and not overthrow them. It's as simple as that. ... That's what you've got to do as an NFL quarterback, and I put that on myself."

If it seems like Purdy is being a bit hard on himself, it's because he is. Sunday was Purdy's 10th career start and seventh in the regular season. He's undefeated in those in-season starts, making him the seventh quarterback of the Super Bowl era to win his first seven career regular-season starts. Along the way, there have been few hiccups from a performance perspective, as he posted multiple touchdown passes and a passer rating of 95.0 or better in each of the previous six. That streak ended Sunday, but Purdy made up for it in other ways.

Purdy finished with a passer rating of 93.1, going 17-of-25 for 206 yards with no touchdown passes or interceptions. He also rushed for a touchdown. The Niners and Purdy found solace in that turnover number on their path to victory. Most notably, Purdy continues to take care of the ball.

Including the playoffs, Purdy has just two interceptions and two lost fumbles in his 10 starts. That continued Sunday in a game in which Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a pair of picks that played a significant role in the Niners' victory.

"The main thing he did today was protect the ball," Shanahan said of Purdy. "Besides those three misses, which none of them were easy, he took care of the football, didn't give them a chance to touch it, but when he was under duress, he was smart."

Against the Rams, Purdy also showed off an ability to adeptly handle quarterback sneaks. That might seem like a small thing, but Jimmy Garoppolo did it nearly flawlessly in his five-plus years in San Francisco, as Shanahan could dial it up in any short-yardage situation and come away with a first down or touchdown. Purdy hasn't had many previous opportunities but delivered in a key moment Sunday.

Trailing 17-10 with one second left in the first half, Shanahan called for a quarterback sneak from inside the Rams' 1. Purdy plowed in for a much-needed tying score as the Rams were set to get the ball first in the third quarter. Purdy said Garoppolo never revealed his secret to success, but it has been a topic among him and his teammates.

"We always try to figure it out, like what does Jimmy do so good on QB sneaks?" Purdy said. "He just found little creases and whatnot and got his shoulder pads down and found a way. That was really about it. I don't think there was necessarily a secret to it or anything. ... I learned a couple things, but he never really told me."

That Purdy didn't have his best game and the Niners still found a way to win is no small thing. Wins are hard to come by, and divisional victories carry a bit of extra weight. Missed deep balls aside, the Niners will take Purdy's Sunday performance every week.

Still, it's fair to wonder what it might look like if it all comes together.

"I'm always extremely irritated when we don't score," Shanahan said. "It's always frustrating. You expect to score. That's how you try to attack. That's what our players expect. We've got a bunch of guys who can make plays. ... Hopefully we got a little bit better this week and it will continue throughout the year."