The quarterback regarded as the greatest of all time will square off against “Mr. Irrelevant” on Sunday when Tom Brady and Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit rookie Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif.
On one hand is Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion, three-time NFL MVP and 15-time Pro Bowl selection.
On the other is Purdy, who will make his first career start on Sunday. At the moment, Purdy’s claim to fame is that he was the 262nd pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Brady threw two late touchdowns to help Tampa Bay rally from a 13-point deficit to post a 17-16 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Monday. The 45-year-old has thrown two scoring strikes in three straight games for the Buccaneers (6-6), who have won three of their last four contests to rest atop a generously mediocre NFC South.
As for the 49ers (8-4), they find themselves atop the NFC West after winning in five in a row. That fifth victory was costly, however, as the 22-year-old Purdy was ushered in to replace an injured Jimmy Garoppolo (broken foot) in San Francisco’s 33-17 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
By all accounts, Purdy acquitted himself well on Sunday by completing 25 of 37 passes for 210 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Purdy had already become the first Mr. Irrelevant ever to complete a forward pass in the NFL back in Week 7 mop-up duty against Kansas City, and now he’s the only one with a touchdown pass.
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday that the team isn’t interested in making wholesale changes to its offensive approach with Purdy under center this weekend.
“We’re trying not to make it a drastic change,” Shanahan said. “I mean, they (Garoppolo and Purdy) have similar skill sets. We’ve got a lot of confidence in Brock. We’ve seen him in practice; the players have, we have, and that’s why we were confident in him. But he hasn’t played a ton of football, so there is some unknown out there, but we know he’s got the ability to do it, we know he’s got the mentality to do it.”
Also, Purdy isn’t out there by himself. And Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles is well aware of that fact.
“He’s talented to begin with or he wouldn’t be in this league,” Bowles said. “But they have a lot of talented players around him and he’s going up against a great defense every day in practice. He’s not going to be nervous, he’s going to play his game — we just have to play ours.
“It’s not about the quarterback, it’s about all 11 guys on the offense.”
49ers running back Christian McCaffrey rolled up 146 scrimmage yards (80 receiving, 66 rushing) last week against Miami. He is no stranger to the Buccaneers after his time with the NFC South-rival Carolina Panthers.
McCaffrey (knee irritation) joined versatile Deebo Samuel (quad), defensive lineman Arik Armstead (foot) and offensive lineman Spencer Burford (ankle) as limited in Wednesday’s practice. NFC Defensive Player of the Week Nick Bosa (hamstring), joined Garoppolo, defensive back Tarvarius Moore (knee), defensive lineman Hassan Ridgeway (pectoral) and offensive tackle Trent Williams (veteran day) in sitting out the session.
With Bosa in tow, the 49ers lead the NFL in total defense (283.9 yards allowed per game), rush defense (75.6) and fewest points allowed (15.8).
“We know what they are — the No. 1 defense in the league and they’re going to challenge us, come up on us, and we’re just ready to accept the challenge,” Buccaneers rookie running back Rachaad White said. “… We know what they bring, and they’ve got a lot of good, great guys up front. They have four pass rushers plus more, they come off the bench, substitute, I mean, the backers are in the box and then back in.
“You know what they can do, they compete, high-effort team, and they’re going to keep coming, so we’ve got to keep pressure.”
Tampa Bay’s defense is no slouch either. The Buccaneers rank eighth in the NFL in total defense (313.8), fifth in scoring defense (18.3) and fourth in sacks (38).
Tampa Bay safeties Mike Edwards (hamstring) and Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle) and offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs (ankle/knee) did not participate in practice on Wednesday. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (quadriceps) and nose tackle Vita Vea (foot/shoulder) were limited in the session.