NFL Playoffs: Remarkable rise of San Francisco 49ers ‘Mr Irrelevant’ Brock Purdy

Dates: Saturday 21 – Sunday 22 January
Live text coverage: On the BBC Sport website and app on Saturday (21:00-05:30 GMT) and Sunday (19:30-04:00)
Radio coverage: Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra and the BBC Sounds app on Sunday (19:30-23:00).

The road to Super Bowl 57 continues this weekend with the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

The postseason went down to one exciting start last week with some touching setbacks and nail-biting finals – only one score separated the teams in four of the wildcard weekend’s six games.

Now it’s time for Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts to join the party after their teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, received a bye for the first week of the playoffs to finish the regular season with the best records in their respective AFC and NFC conferences.

But there’s another quarterback most NFL fans hadn’t heard of until last month who threatens to steal their thunder in this season’s playoffs.

Brock Purdy has come out of nowhere to become the San Francisco 49ers’ starting quarterback.

Now the 23-year-old aims to lead the five-time Super Bowl winners to this season’s big game in Arizona on February 12.

What is ‘Mr Irrelevant’?

Melanie Salata-Fitch with Brock Purdy and his family
Melanie Salata-Fitch (second left) welcomed Brock Purdy and his family to “Irrelevant Week” last June

In the offseason, the 49ers considered whether their starting quarterback would be veteran Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance, whom they selected with the third pick in the 2021 draft.

Purdy paid no attention to the conversation. No wonder since he was this season’s ‘Mr Irrelevant’, the player chosen last in the draft, who in 2022 was the 262nd pick.

Former 49ers receiver Paul Salata founded the nickname in 1976 and established “Irrelevant Week”,external link a series of events to “celebrate football’s underdog” and raise money for charity.

Each year, Salata, who died in 2021 aged 94, announced the last election, with his daughter taking over in 2014, inviting him to spend a week being celebrated in California.

For Purdy, that included sailing, surfing, a visit to a baseball game and a pub crawl with fans. He was showered with gifts and embraced his new nickname, wearing a 49ers jersey with ‘Mr Irrelevant 262’ on the back.

“It was all fun and games in terms of making the trip and meeting great people, but I didn’t care what round or what pick I was or if I was undrafted,” he said.

“I just wanted to prove to myself that I can play at this level and I got an opportunity to play for the 49ers, so I’m very grateful.”

After injuries to Lance and then Garoppolo, Purdy got that opportunity last month. Since then, the third-round quarterback has been anything but irrelevant, getting off to a record-breaking start to his NFL career.

Why was Purdy drafted so late?

As you can imagine, there’s usually a reason why players are picked so late in the draft, and few Mr Irrelevants have made an impact in the NFL.

Purdy made 46 starts in four years of college football at Iowa State, but there were concerns about his consistency, arm strength and mobility, as well as his physical presence as 6ft 1in is not considered ideal for a quarterback.

But he made the 49ers’ 53-man roster before being elevated to the starter for Week 14 at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Purdy’s family got tickets weeks earlier so they could see seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady play for the Bucs. Little did they know that Purdy would not only play as well, he would become the first quarterback to beat Brady in his first NFL start, which The 49ers won 35-7.

And he has shown that it was no accident by continuing to win and make history. In his first six starts, Purdy has thrown more touchdown passes – 14 – than legendary 49ers quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young.

The 49ers have averaged more points since Purdy came in, and after beat the Seattle Seahawks 41-23 last week is on an 11 game winning streak.

Is Purdy the real deal?

Brock Purdy
Purdy finished with 332 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown against Seattle

The 49ers have the best offense and defense in the NFL, and before his first start, Montana had this advice for Purdy: “You’ve got a really good team around you, you just have to be the postman — give the ball to guys who can run.”

With an experienced coaching staff calling the right plays to deliver to their star players, a system quarterback or playmaker can get the job done in the short term.

But Purdy has shown he is more than that. He stayed calm after a shaky start against Seattle, and when he was under pressure, he was more creative and elusive than his scouting reports suggested.

“When he’s with him in the huddle, he’s poised, calm and extremely confident,” running back Christian McCaffrey said.

“He’s exactly what you want in a quarterback. No moment is too big for him and he makes adjustments quickly.”

Last week’s win made Purdy the seventh rookie quarterback to win his first playoff game. If the 49ers win at home against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, he will become just the third player to win multiple postseason games.

No rookie quarterback has reached the Super Bowl before. Do that and the 262nd pick could replace number three Lance as next season’s starter.

What else to look for

Purdy’s remarkable rise isn’t the only feel-good story in the playoffs, as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin continues his recovery after suffering cardiac arrest during the penultimate round of the regular season.

The game against the Cincinnati Bengals was called off, but just 20 days later the two sides meet again on Sunday, and the Bills have not ruled out Hamlin attending the emotional reunion after visiting the team several times this week.

“He’s a positive energy bubble that just floats around the facility,” Buffalo offensive lineman Dion Dawkins said.

While Purdy celebrated a dream playoff debut, Trevor Lawrence experienced a nightmare when the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback threw four interceptions in the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers.

But Lawrence showed why he was the 2021 No. 1 draft pick, throwing four touchdown passes as the Jags battled back to win 31-30 and set up a mouth-watering matchup against 2018 MVP Mahomes, who aims to lead the Kansas City Chiefs to a third Super Bowl in four years.

The Philadelphia Eagles return to action against division rivals the New York Giants, who upset the Minnesota Vikings on the road last week for their first playoff win in 11 years.

Layout of the divisional round

(away team first, kick-off times GMT)

Saturday 21 January

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Kansas City Chiefs (9:30 p.m.)

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles (01:15 Sun)

Sunday, January 22

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Buffalo Bills (8 p.m.)

Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers (11:30 p.m.)

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