Analysis: Third-string NFL QBs rise to challenge of starting

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) throws a touchdown pass to running back Christian McCaffrey during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
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AP Pro Football Writer

Brock Purdy outplayed Tom Brady, leaving his dad in tears with a stellar performance in his first career start. Anthony Brown displayed a veteran’s poise under pressure in his NFL debut.

Third-string quarterbacks had quite the Sunday leading a pair of division leaders to important wins.

Other backups, including former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, saw action in Week 14. Purdy stole the show.

The rookie quarterback chosen with the last pick in the draft this year threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score, helping the San Francisco 49ers rout Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7, spoiling the GOAT’s Bay Area homecoming.

“I grew up watching him, seeing him make plays and win Super Bowls, so to be out on the same field and being able to compete against one another, it’s literally a dream come true,” Purdy said. “I’m very blessed and honored to play against him.”

After his second TD pass of the game, Purdy’s father wiped tears from his eyes. Purdy, who played four seasons at Iowa State before the Niners selected him with the 262nd pick, had many family members in the stands.

“It’s everything,” he said about their support. “Being the last pick, my family has always been the rock and the people to tell me ‘you’re good enough,’ especially my dad. To do this and have this kind of performance with them here watching, it means the world to me. I’m thankful.”

The NFC West-leading 49ers (9-4) are relying on Purdy to take them to the Super Bowl after losing Jimmy Garoppolo to a foot injury. Trey Lance, who opened the year as San Francisco’s starter, already went down for the season with a broken ankle on Sept. 18.

Purdy’s teammates are confident he can do the job.

“I’m not surprised,” Niners receiver Ray-Ray McCloud III said. “If you just watch Brock when he first walked in this building, from when he was drafted here, when he practices even in preseason, his personality just reflects on the field hands down. He’s an animal and he’s passionate about his craft. He is going to let you know how, but he is not cocky. He is very confident and as a quarterback that’s all you need back there.”

The Baltimore Ravens had to turn to an undrafted rookie after backup Tyler Huntley, who filling in for Lamar Jackson, entered concussion protocol in the third quarter against Pittsburgh. Brown took his first snap from the Ravens 1 with the team leading 13-7. He tossed a 3-yard pass. Brown finished 3 of 5 for 16 yards and guided the offense on a field-goal drive that ended up being the decisive score in a 16-14 victory over the Steelers.

The AFC North-leading Ravens (9-4) don’t know when Jackson will return so they’ll be counting on Huntley and Brown, if needed.

“He’s kind of calm, cool and collected,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Brown. “(He’s) very much a student of the game, works very hard at it in terms of preparing himself.”

Baker Mayfield got things started for reserve QBs Thursday night, leading the Los Angeles Rams to an improbable comeback 17-16 win over the Las Vegas Raiders just two days after the team claimed him off waivers from Carolina.

The Rams (4-9) are headed nowhere after winning the Super Bowl last season but Mayfield makes them at least interesting to watch.

Other backups had varying results.

Flacco briefly replaced Mike White in the New York Jets’ 20-12 loss at Buffalo. White was battered by the Bills throughout the game and ended up going to a hospital in an ambulance afterward for what the team said was a precautionary trip.

The Houston Texans used a two-QB system with Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel sharing snaps in a 27-23 last-minute loss at Dallas.

Mitchell Trubisky took over for Kenny Pickett after Pittsburgh’s rookie starter entered the concussion protocol in the first quarter. The Denver Broncos turned to Brett Rypien after Russell Wilson slammed his head into the turf at the end of a run. Rypien tossed a TD pass in a 34-28 loss to Kansas City.

With so many QBs going down, backups and reserves must stay ready, especially for teams with playoff hopes down the stretch.