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From Garcia to Purdy: The 49ers Quest for 4,000




Ever since Jeff Garcia set the franchise record of 4,278 passing yards back in 2000, no 49ers quarterback has touched 4,000 yards since. At least, not until last night when Brock Purdy passed that elusive mark.



Nobody thought anything of the Quest for 4,000 when Garcia passed for 3,538, 3,344 and 2,704 yards from 2001 through 2003 respectively. For while the 49ers enjoyed the services of voluble wideout Terrell Owens, he was a one-man army and the 49ers were soon to plunge headfirst into salary cap purgatory.


With purgatory often comes uncertainty at quarterback, flushing the organization further down the rabbit trail. From 2004 through 2010, the 49ers would shuffle their quarterbacks like a blackjack dealer, even after drafting Alex Smith first overall in 2005. No matter how talented a quarterback may be, he stands almost no chance of surpassing 4,000 yards in a season with so much uncertainty at his position.



Still, there were those that made a valiant effort. Seasons such as Tim Rattay's 2,169 yards in 2004, Alex Smith's 2,890 in 2006 and the 2,350 that he gained after supplanting Shawn Hill in the middle of 2009 were considered San Francisco's new standard for quarterback excellence in this era of free agency and salary cap.


It was a far cry from the days of gold, where Joe Montana and Steve Young stepped on the field with a command in their vocal cords and presence that no one in the 49ers' quarterback's room could ever hope to duplicate.


Things began to change when Jim Harbaugh arrived from Stanford in 2011. While some in the media believed that he would soon look for his own signal caller, Harbaugh stuck with Smith. Still, the 49ers continued to fall short of the elusive 4,000 passing yards as the former quarterback ironically preferred a powerful running attack to tire teams out instead of an aerial assault.



As a result, Alex Smith threw for an astounding 3,144 in 2011. While it was nowhere near 4,000 yards, his lone season as the 49ers sole quarterback under Jim Harbaugh produced more passing yardage than any Niner quarterback since Jeff Garcia's 3,344 yards in 2002.

The 49ers didn't stand much of a chance at attaining that magic number in 2012 after Smith went down with a concussion and ultimately lost his job to Colin Kaepernick who proceeded to dazzle the league with a running style that often reminded one of a wild stallion. Still, between the two quarterbacks that year, the 49ers passed for a respectable 3,551 yards in a year that ended in a Super Bowl loss.


With Smith traded after that memorable year, the job was Kaepernick's. While he changed the way that the NFL viewed quarterbacks, he never became the gunslinger that he could have been, especially considering his cannon for an arm. In his two full seasons are the 49ers starting quarterback, Colin Kaepernick passed for 3,197 and3,369 yards, good numbers that could have been better.



After Harbaugh's ouster in 2014, a new regime was brought in as well as a new offensive ideology. Unfortunately, all that mean was that the offense wasn't really built around anything and soon a quarterback controversy boiled over between Kaepernick and his backup Blaine Gabbert.


Once again, the 49ers entered the Wilderness of Despair with not a 4,000 yard passer in sight. After Kaepernick and Gabbert left following the 2016 season and Kyle Shanahan was hired in 2017, numerous forgettable names stepped through the 49ers doors while Shanahan tried to find a franchise quarterback. People such as Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard all fell flat on their faces as reliable signal callers as well as 4,000 yard passes.


And then the Patriots gifted them with Jimmy Garoppolo. With his Hollywood-good looks, nimble feet and quick delivery, Jimmy G seemed to be the total package. With multiple quality receivers at his disposal, all he needed was a full season of health to come within a single completion from surpassing 4,000 yards, finishing 2019 with 3,978 and another loss in the Super Bowl.



After a lost and chaotic 2020, Jimmy Garoppolo once again came perilously close to 4,000 the following year, finishing with 3,810 yards. Perhaps he could have surpassed that mark if he hadn't sat out a couple of game with an injury, watching from the sidelines as his heir-apparent, Trey Lance, tried to grow within a system that the elder quarterback had grown accustomed to executing.


But while Garoppolo may have grown accustomed to the system, there was another who seemed born for the role. When Jimmy Garoppolo was lost for the last five regular season games of 2022, the light began to flicker in the City by the Bay as no one knew anything about his backup, a young man who had recently been the very last pick in the NFL Draft.



When Brock Purdy stepped into the role, he didn't look like the average rookie quarterback. He was both calm and daring as he led one of the NFL's most talented teams all the way to the NFC Championship Game, losing to the Eagles who proceeded to blow out the precocious rookie's elbow.


All offseason, people pondered the possibilities, awaiting the day when Brock Purdy would make his 2023 debut. When the season kicked off, he did not disappoint. Dumping, lofting and zipping passes to a slew of tremendous receivers led by Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle, Purdy proved to be all that the Faithful had hoped for. Finally, in Week 16 and in the midst of a gamut of four interceptions in front of a national audience, Brock Purdy threw for his 4,000th yard of the season. At long last, a 49er quarterback had completed the Quest for 4,000.

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