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49ers QB Brock Purdy in fine form after elbow surgery, knows 'who God has called me to be'

The last time the NFL world saw San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy in a meaningful game, Jan. 29, 2023, his memorable rookie season was sputtering to an end with a 31-7 defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game.

Nicknamed “Mr. Irrelevant” as the last overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, Purdy was severely limited that day after suffering a UCL tear in the elbow of his right throwing arm. As the Eagles racked up touchdown after touchdown, Purdy and his 49ers were powerless to respond.

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On Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road in Week 1, Purdy reminded everyone why the 49ers were even in the NFC championship game a year ago. His ability to orchestrate a game — when healthy — was on full display, as he completed 19 of 29 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns on the way to a 30-7 victory. He is now the only quarterback in NFL history to win his first six career regular-season starts and throw two or more touchdowns in each.

Sunday’s game served as a massive sigh of relief for Purdy himself and for many 49ers fans and front office staff members. The answer to whether he could be as effective after his elbow surgery as he was before was a decisive “yes.”

When asked in his postgame press conference whether he felt the weightiness of his return from elbow surgery during the game, Purdy said he didn’t.

“I think more in camp and stuff I felt like that,” Purdy said. “… Once I hit that touchdown, I wasn’t thinking ‘surgery’ or anything like that.”

San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan agreed that Purdy approached the game well. He knows what he’ll get from his second-year quarterback.

“[Purdy] is pretty steady,” Shanahan said in his postgame press conference. “You don’t see much different each day. He’s a very faith-based person. I think that gives him his foundation as much as anyone I’ve been around. He’s taken this whole offseason as good as you can. … He handles the pressure well and really doesn’t change. I think that’s why the guys love him and I think that’s why he’ll continue to get better.”

Sunday marked the six-month anniversary of Purdy’s surgery that allowed him to return to the field this year. Initially, there was fear he’d have to undergo what is typically called Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2023-24 season. The Tommy John surgery is a complete reconstruction of the tendon, but Purdy only needed his tendon to be repaired with an internal brace, thus shortening the recovery time.

For a feature story in Sports Spectrum Magazine‘s Fall 2023 edition, Purdy spoke on the eve of training camp in July about his mindset during his recovery.

“I think the first thing really is just, obviously, being thankful for just the little things, the moments and being present with where God has me,” he told Sports Spectrum. “Not trying to get caught up in timelines of what my future looks like and ‘Oh, I did this last year, so I deserve this.’ For me it’s, ‘No, God has me where He needs me,’ and, ‘How can I look around and be thankful for where He has me and just have that steadfastness and peace and love, obviously that He provides, and stay in that?’”

Purdy — who joined the postgame prayer at the 50 on Sunday — has long been outspoken about his faith in Jesus Christ, including his collegiate days at Iowa State. He knows his identity is found in Christ, not in how he performs on a football field or even how he’s perceived by fans and media members. The goal of his life, before anything else, is to give glory to his Heavenly Father.

“This is who God has called me to be,” he told Sports Spectrum in February. “And I’ve believed that from day one. I believe that Jesus Christ did come down, and died for my sins and rose again, and He is living and sitting beside God (the Father) on the throne. And so I believe that. It’s not just some story fairytale thing. It’s real. And it allows me to stay level-headed and real with life.

“And I know what my purpose is.”

Purdy will seek to continue to keep his eyes on the Lord as the 2023-24 NFL season gets into full swing. He’s certainly set expectations high with his play on the field, but he knows he answers ultimately to the One who’s given him abundant life.

Purdy and the 49ers, who are among the top Super Bowl contenders, take the field again Sunday in Los Angeles against the Rams (1-0). The game is set for 4:05 p.m. ET. San Francisco’s home opener comes Thursday, Sept. 21, against the New York Giants.

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