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Comparing Brock Purdy’s early-career success to Dak Prescott

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy heads into this weekend’s NFL Divisional Playoffs as one of the biggest stories in the league. The rookie seventh-round pick is slated to take on Dak Prescott at home Sunday afternoon with a ticket to the NFC Championship Game on the line.

San Francisco heads into this one in the midst of an 11-game winning streak. Since replacing an injured Jimmy Garoppolo, Purdy has led the 49ers to six straight victories. It is among the best runs we’ve seen from a rookie quarterback in NFL history.

As some look for ways to discredit Purdy’s success or point to a potential let down against Dallas, it’s also important to look at history here. Interestingly enough, said history also includes what Prescott did after he took over for an injured Tony Romo as a rookie back in 2016.

In what promises to be an evenly-matched game between these two longtime rivals, quarterback play could make the difference. How does Purdy’s rookie season match up to what Prescott did years ago? Will that play a role in the outcome of Sunday’s game at Levi’s Stadium. We look at all of this below.

Related: Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers NFL Divisional Playoffs preview

Brock Purdy’s rookie stats outshine what Dak Prescott did

brock purdy vs dak prescott, nfl divisional playoffs
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As noted above, Prescott took over as Dallas’ starter when Romo went down with a spinal injury that preseason. A fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State, Prescott came out of nowhere to lead the Cowboys. They finished with a 13-3 record, winning the NFC East in the process.

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to initially look at what Prescott did in his first five starts as a rookie. It gives us a smallish sample size to compare to Purdy’s performance once he took over for Garoppolo as San Francisco’s starter back in Week 14.

Dallas posted a 4-1 record in these five starts, averaging 25.8 points per game. For his part, Prescott averaged 8.0 yards per attempt during this span.

Coming out of nowhere as so-called Mr. Irrelevant in the 2022 NFL Draft, Purdy’s first five starts made NFL history. He became the first rookie in league history to account for two touchdowns or more while winning each of his first five starts. The numbers are ridiculous.

An argument can be made that the start to Purdy’s career has been the most relevant (pun intended) for a rookie since Prescott. San Francisco won all five of those starts while averaging an insane 33.8 points per game.

Related: Dak Prescott, Brock Purdy standing among NFL Playoff QBs

The supporting casts matter

dak prescott vs brock purdy
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Unlike Trevor Lawrence in 2021 and other early first-round picks in recent history, both Prescott and Purdy enjoyed great skill-position groups in their first regular seasons.

For Prescott back in 2016, fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott tallied 1,994 total yards and 16 touchdowns from the running back position. He led the league in attempts (332) and rushing yards (1,631) en route to earning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and finishing in the top three for MVP.

Cole Beasley and Dez Bryant combined to catch 125 passes for north of 1,600 yards while tight end Jason Witten hauled in 69 passes. Dallas’ offensive line consisted of three All-Pro performers in that of left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. Its defense also finished fifth in the league in points allowed.

San Francisco wouldn’t be heading into the NFC Divisional Playoffs with an 11-game winning streak if it didn’t have an elite roster, too.

In reality, things changed on a dime once general manager John Lynch went out there and acquired star running back Christian McCaffrey from the Carolina Panthers back in October. In the 11 full games he has played with San Francisco, the team is undefeated. It is outscoring opponents by north of 16 points during that span. For his part, CMC has tallied 1,246 total yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games with the 49ers.

Much like Prescott in 2016, Brock Purdy has also been aided by elite-level pass-catchers. Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel combined for north of 1,600 receiving yards. Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle caught 11 touchdowns during the regular season. Meanwhile, Trent Williams is simply the best left tackle in football.

None of this takes into account a defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL in scoring, yards against and rushing yards allowed. It was a team-wide effort from Kyle Shanahan’s squad during the regular season.

Related: Sportsnaut’s NFL Playoff and Super Bowl predictions

NFL Playoff debuts for Dak Prescott and Brock Purdy

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
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Prescott’s playoff debut came in the divisional round against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Dallas had earned a first-round bye and was 5.5-point favorites heading in.

Jason Garrett’s squad was sluggish out of the gate, falling down 21-3 midway through the third quarter before Prescott hit Bryant on a 40-yard touchdown. Dallas would evenutally even it up late in the fourth quarter on another Prescott-to-Bryant touchdown before Green Bay won the game on a Mason Crosby field goal as time expired.

Prescott was stellar throughout, completing 24-of-38 passes for 302 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Unfortunately, that lone interception came with Dallas driving midway through the third quarter. It took points off the board in what was a three-point loss.

Purdy’s debut was vastly different in the grand scheme of things. San Francisco was unable to earn a first-round bye this season with Philadelphia winning in Week 18. However, the 49ers were huge 9.5-point favorites against a vastly inferior Seahawks squad.

After some initial struggles, Purdy absolutely found his rhythm. He completed 18-of-30 passes for 332 yards with four total touchdowns and zero interceptions, finishing second in 49ers playoff history in passing yards behind Joe Montana.

In particular, Purdy’s second-half performance was eye-opening after some struggles from the 49ers as a team through the first 30 minutes. The Iowa State product completed 8-of-9 passes for 178 yards with three total touchdowns. He led San Francisco on three consecutive touchdown-scoring drives within just over 12 minutes of game time, culminating in a blowout 41-23 win.

Related: Ranking the four NFL Divisional Playoff games this weekend

What does it all mean?

NFL: NFC Wild Card Playoff-San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
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On the surface, comparing Dak Prescott from six years ago to the Brock Purdy of the past six weeks doesn’t make a ton of sense. But it does provide some backdrop when analyzing this matchup Sunday afternoon in Santa Clara.

In addition to Russell Wilson’s rookie campaign with Seattle back in 2012, these are two of the greatest rookie debuts in modern NFL histroy for a quarterback. Based on everything we’ve seen from Purdy, he’s going to be more than up to the task.

As for Prescott, he’s coming off an historical playoff performance in Cowboys history during their wild card win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. After leading the NFL interceptions during the regular season, Prescott has clearly returned to form. As he proved as a rookie, no stage is too big.

Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara will be popping come 6:30 PM ET on Sunday with these two signal callers headlining the drama. While we don’t view Prescott and Purdy in the same manner, their parallel career origins shouldn’t be lost on us.