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Brock Purdy rallies 49ers to comeback win over Lions, Super Bowl LVIII berth with 'unbelievable' second half

During the regular season, Brock Purdy was not credited with a single fourth-quarter comeback or a game-winning drive.

In two playoff games, he has one in each of the San Francisco 49ers' thrilling victories.

The 49ers will head back to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years following their 34-31 win over the Lions on Sunday, overcoming a 17-point halftime deficit to do so. It wasn't the biggest comeback in franchise history -- and not even the biggest playoff comeback for the 49ers -- but it will go down as one of their most memorable.

And they couldn't have done it without Purdy's second half.

"Just the feeling of redemption, coming back, it's huge," Purdy said in his post-game news conference. "To see the clock hit zero and you're up, it was special to all of us."

The Lions took control of the game early with a scalding offensive attack, rushing for three touchdowns while building a 24-7 halftime lead. Purdy and the 49ers, meanwhile, were stuck in neutral. After a missed field goal on their first drive, the Niners drove 75 yards for a score, but a bad interception under pressure by Purdy led to the Lions' third TD of the half.

Purdy was 7-of-15 passing for 93 yards, with a TD and an INT in the first half, struggling to push the ball down the field, all while the Lions scored on four of their five possessions. Even with the 49ers getting the ball first to start the second half, things weren't looking great. Then again, they weren't looking so hot last week against the Packers.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan said he told the team at the break: "Guys, we're only down 17 points."

Added Purdy: "Nobody was rah-rah. Nobody was freaking out."

The Divisional Round win over Green Bay got the monkey off Shanahan's back to a degree, as the 49ers overcame a fourth-quarter deficit of five or more points to win for the first time in 32 such situations since he became head coach in 2017. But it also was a big lift for Purdy, who overcame some rough moments to lead the game-winning drive.

Together, Shanahan and Purdy pulled it out late once more on Sunday -- this time with a higher degree of difficulty.

"We played as bad of a first half as we could, but we were still within 17; there's plenty of points there you could make up," Shanahan said at the postgame trophy presentation. "We had to score on the first drive -- we got a field goal and not a touchdown, which hurt -- but then our guys got those turnovers, kept it rolling. (The defense) shut 'em out there in the second half, and this dude right next to me made it happen."

That dude was Purdy. It wasn't always pretty, and he got some help along the way, but the results spoke for themselves.

"Down 17 at the half, our whole team was just, 'Gotta find a way,'" Purdy told NFL Network's Omar Ruiz after the game. "You know, our season's on the line, obviously the first half performance was tough, and so we were like 'You know what, backs (are) against the wall, let's just go, let's try to get some momentum rolling, gets some points up on the board,' so we were able to find a way."

The 49ers methodically drove for a field goal to open the second half, and the game shifted after the Niners' defense stopped the Lions -- in field-goal range -- on fourth down. That's when the offense really got cooking.

Purdy needed some luck, too. His 51-yard completion to Brandon Aiyuk was overthrown, bouncing off the facemask of Lions cornerback Kindle Vildor and miraculously into the hands of Aiyuk at the Detroit 4-yard line. Three plays later, Purdy hit Aiyuk for a touchdown, suddenly and shockingly making it a one-score game with more than 20 minutes left in the game.

More help arrived with the Lions' self-immolation. Dovetailing off some dropped passes -- this would become a massive theme -- on the prior drive, Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs coughed up a fumble on the first play of the next possession. The comeback kicked into high gear from this point on, with Purdy using every tool in his bag to help get it done.

Purdy's only rushing attempt in the first half was the kneel-down before heading into the tunnel. But his legs would play a major role in the 49ers fighting back.

On the second play of the game-tying drive, Purdy scrambled for 21 yards down to the 4-yard line. Two plays later, Christian McCaffrey's second rushing TD tied the game up at 24-all. After a Lions three-and-out, Purdy led a field-goal drive to take the lead, thanks to three big plays. First, he spun out of a sack to hit Kyle Juszczyk for an improbable first down. Purdy then followed that up with a huge 28-yard completion to George Kittle, followed by a 10-yard scramble, setting up a Jake Moody field goal.

After another failed Lions drive, Purdy's legs were clutch again. On third-and-4, he escaped the grasp of Aidan Hutchinson, outran Alex Anzalone and motored 21 yards for a back-breaking first down. A stop would have given the ball back to Detroit with just over four minutes left and only a field goal needed to tie. Instead, that play and a 25-yard McCaffrey run set up Elijah Mitchell's rushing TD, and the Lions were somehow down, 34-24.

"I thought it was the difference between winning and losing," Shanahan said of Purdy's second-half scrambling spree. "He made some big plays with his legs. Getting out of the pocket, moving the chains and some first downs, getting some explosives."

Purdy completed 13 of his 16 passes after halftime, and even with a few red-zone sacks that were on him, he saved his best for last. He finished the game with 267 yards passing (126 of them in the third quarter) and 48 more rushing, with his 315 combined yards passing and rushing the most ever by a 49ers QB in a conference title game victory, per NFL Research.

Not bad company for a former Mr. Irrelevant playing for a franchise that can claim the likes of Joe Montana and Steve Young.

"He competed his ass off today," Shanahan said. "It wasn't easy for any of us. He kept grinding and was unbelievable there in the second half."

The Lions would score with under a minute remaining, but when the 49ers recovered the onside kick, they were only a few clock-burning handoffs away from victory. A victory that looked pretty unlikely at halftime.

It completed the first stage of a long journey for Purdy, too, having seen his storybook rookie season come crashing down suddenly when he suffered an elbow injury in last year's NFC Championship Game loss to the Eagles. That was followed by months of rehab and questions about when he might be able to be ready to throw again.

Purdy came back, reclaimed his starting role and led the 49ers to the top seed in the NFC. Even with a three-game losing streak during which Purdy didn't play his best ball, he made strides as a quarterback and added a few layers of thick skin in the process.

"Man, just thankful," Purdy told Ruiz when asked about his journey to this point. "God has continued to bless me and use me, and I just give him all the glory. And for us to come out one day at a time, one game at a time, find ways to win, (having) such a great squad and organization around me … and (it has) just been a blessing, it's been a ride. So I'm very thankful."

For a player who was considered an MVP candidate for a stretch this season, doubters remained nonetheless. Maybe it's because of his draft pedigree, or his unassuming appearance. Perhaps the three-game losing streak stuck in the back of people's heads. Purdy doesn't have the league's strongest arm, and his running ability -- Sunday's effort notwithstanding -- won't put him among the Lamar Jacksons of the league.

But in two playoff games, with the chips down in each of them, Purdy was lethal when it most mattered. The first comeback was tough. The second was epic. All that's left is a Super Bowl LVIII matchup in Las Vegas against magic man Patrick Mahomes and the reigning champion Chiefs.

Anyone still doubting the 49ers' chances?

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