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Brock Purdy vs Joe Montana: How their careers have started in similar fashion

Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

No one in their right mind is going to compare a sophomore in Brock Purdy to all-time great quarterback Joe Montana. That would get us laughed off the stage and blacklisted from ever talking about football again.

What we can do is look at what they did early in their careers as Purdy leads his San Francisco 49ers into Super Bowl LVIII against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

Believe it or not, the similarities are vast. Both won four of their first five playoff games. The one loss during that span was due to situations vastly out of their control. Montana was a mere third-round pick and found himself starting due to struggles from a veteran on the 49ers’ roster. Purdy was Mr. Irrelevant as the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and replaced an injured veteran.

These are just some of the similarities between the two quarterbacks. Below is a detailed comparison. Take from it what you want.

Related: Top storylines for Super Bowl LVIII

Joe Montana vs. Brock Purdy: Statistical comparisons

comparing brock purdy to joe montana
Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll get into the difference between when Montana played and today’s NFL with Purdy doing his thing a bit further below. But the statistical splits between the two in their first 21 career starts are as eye-opening as it gets. Purdy leads Montana in every major category, with some not even that close.

PlayerRecordComp %YardsTDINTQB ratingYPAYPC
Brock Purdy17-4.6875,6544415111.49.213.4
Joe Montana 13-8.6354,737272084.86.99.8
First 21 career stats

Purdy’s first 21 regular-season starts saw the quarterback throw multiple touchdowns 14 times (67% clip). Montana accomplished the feat just nine times. Purdy threw for north of 300 yards five times compared to zero for Montana. In terms of efficiency, Purdy’s first 21 starts saw him boast a triple-digit QB rating 14 times compared to Montana’s five times.

These are the numbers. They are subject to interpretation and further evaluation. But when it comes to stats, Purdy stands above Montana. No argument against that fact can be made.

1981 leaders vs 2023 leaders: Things skewed in Brock Purdy’s favor

As noted above, Montana played in a different era in comparison to Purdy. First off, rules were much more friendler to defenses during Joe Cool’s days. Secondly, teams relied more on the running game in lower-scoring affairs in comparison to today’s iteration of the game. Quarterback stats from 1981 compared to 2023 tell us this story in a big way.

Back in 1981, 14 quarterbacks threw for at least 3,000 yards. That number stood at 19 in 2023. During Montana’s first full season as a starter, two quarterbacks tossed at least 30 touchdowns. This past regular season saw four hit that plateau.

But the advanced stats are much more telling. Just look at how the top-five quarterbacks in terms of passing yards fared from a touchdown-to-interception ratio.

PlayerTeamTDINTQB rating
Dan FoutsSan Diego Chargers331790.6
Tommy KramerMinnesota Vikings262472.6
Brian SipeCleveland Browns172568.2
Steve BartkowskiAtlanta Falcons302379.2
Ken AndersonCincinnati Bengals291098.4
1981 NFL passing leaders

Playing under the “Air Coryell” offense, Fouts was an outlier back in 1981. He threw for 4,802 yards, 900-plus more than the second-leading passer in the NFL.

Bartkowski earned Pro Bowl honors in Atlanta despite throwing 23 interceptions. Meanwhile, the only quarterback that compares favorably to Purdy’s 2023 numbers was Anderson. All he did was lead Cincinnati to the Super Bowl against Montana’s 49ers.

There is a resounding difference between 1981 and 2023 when looking at the top passing leaders in the NFL. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that.

Related: Sportsnaut’s full Super Bowl LVIII coverage here

PlayerTeamTDINTQB rating
Tua TagovailoaMiami Dolphins2914101.1
Jared GoffDetroit Lions301297.9
Dak PrescottDallas Cowboys369105.9
Josh AllenBuffalo Bills291892.2
Brock PurdySan Francisco 49ers3111113.0
2023 NFL passing leaders

The only quarterback in 2023 that would compare to 1981 metrics is Josh Allen. He was also scrutinized a ton for his giveaways in Buffalo. All of Purdy’s numbers would’ve topped any quarterback in 1981 outside of Fouts’ passing yards and touchdowns. As mentioned above, he was the outlier there.

Montana did lead the NFL in completion percentage (.637) in his first full season as a starter. He also threw just 19 touchdowns with 12 interceptions in 16 starts.

Though, there is another factor to look at here. We mentioned above how teams relied more on the running game back in 1981 compared to 2023. In fact, the entire 70s, 80s and parts of the early 90s were heavily skewed in the favor of run-dominant attacks.

Look at it this way. A total of 15 running backs went for over 1,000 yards during Montana’s first season as a full-time starter. This included four crossing the 1,400-yard plateau. A total of 12 running backs hit 1,000 yards in 2023 with only Christian McCaffrey going for over 1,400 yards. In fact, only six running backs have crossed that threshold this decade.

Related: Ranking Joe Montana among San Francisco 49ers all-time players

San Francisco 49ers’ success under young Montana compared to Purdy

joe montana vs brock purdy
Credit: Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

As noted above, Montana posted a 13-8 record in his first 21 career starts. Those numbers are a bit skewed given the fact that he was 2-6 in his first eight starts spanning the 1979 and 1980 seasons. San Francisco was among the worst teams in the NFL during that span with a combined 8-24 record. It took the historic 1981 NFL Draft class as well as some big-time outside additions for San Francisco to turn things around.

Think about it this way. Before Montana made his first NFL start against the then-St. Louis Cardinals in Week 14 of the 1979 season, the 49ers had posted a combined 3-29 record in their previous 32 games.

Before Purdy made his initial NFL start against the Buccaneers during Week 14 of the 2022 season, the 49ers had posted a combined 19-13 record in their previous 32 games. This is what we mean when we say the numbers are skewed. Purdy initially had a lot more talent to work with on both sides of the ball. That point is is hard to argue against.

What we do know is that the 49ers averaged 30 points per game in Purdy’s first 21 regular-season starts compared to 20.6 under Montana. Do with that what you want.

Joe Montana vs. Brock Purdy: Initial NFL Playoff exposure

brock purdy vs joe montana
Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Montana made his first playoff appearance after 24 regular-season starts. It came at the end of his third season. As you likely already know, Purdy was thrust into action due to Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury in December of his rookie season. His first playoff appearance came after a mere five regular-season starts.

For the sake of being fair and balanced, let’s compare these two quarterbacks through five playoff starts. That’s the number Purdy is at heading into Super Bowl LVIII against the Kansas City Chiefs.

PlayerRecordComp %YardsTDINTQB rating
Joe Montana4-1.6051,29510689.8
Brock Purdy4-1.6321,0885198.2

There are several intriguing things to look at here. Three of Montana’s six postseason interceptions during that five-game span came in San Francisco’s epic 1981 NFC Championship Game win over the Dallas Cowboys. A game dubbed as “The Catch,” saw Montana lead the 49ers down the field for the game-winning score. It culminated in the touchdown pass to Dwight Clark.

Montana’s only loss during this span came in the 1983 NFC Championship Game against Washington. It’s a game that saw Montana lead the 49ers back from a 21-0 deficit after three by throwing three touchdowns in the final quarter before Washington won at the end on a field goal.

As for Purdy, his only loss came in last season’s NFC Championship Game when he suffered an elbow injury on the 49ers’ first drive. While Purdy ended up returning after Josh Johnson suffered a concussion, he literally could not throw a forward pass. Purdy ultimately underwent surgery weeks later, showing just how serious the injury was.

Talk about early postseason success for both quarterbacks.

Related: 5 bold predictions for Super Bowl LVIII

Similarities between Joe Montana are robust, but completely unfinished

We’re not comparing Purdy to one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play. We’re definitely not comparing him to the single most-clutch player in NFL history. That would be completely foolhardy.

Rather, this is just to look at how the two performed early in their careers. As you can see above, the early-career similiarites are robust.

Montana earned a Super Bowl title within his first five career playoff starts. If Purdy is able to lead the 49ers over Kansas City on Sunday, it would have taken him six. Montana was a third-round pick in the 1979 NFL Draft behind fellow quarterbacks such as Jack Thompson (3rd overall) and Steve Fuller (23rd overall). Years from now, we likely won’t remember those selected over Purdy.

Purdy’s story is something out of Hollywood. And a win on the game’s grandest of stages will certainly etch his name in stone with Montana and Steve Young in 49ers lore.

It’s something no one would have envisioned 16 short months ago.

Heck, the idea of an article such as this even being written then would have led to us believing we exist in a parallel universe. No matter who you are going for, the Purdy story is pretty darn awesome.

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