What Purdy's concussion status means for Darnold, 49ers in Week 8

What Purdy's concussion status means for Darnold, 49ers in Week 8 originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SANTA CLARA — Brock Purdy has entered the NFL’s concussion protocol, and time is the quarterback's enemy in order to be cleared for the 49ers’ next game.

Coming off two consecutive losses, the 49ers were dealt another big blow when Purdy first reported concussion symptoms on the team’s flight home after the Monday night loss against the Minnesota Vikings.

Next up for the 49ers is Sam Darnold, who beat out Trey Lance during training camp to serve as Purdy’s backup.

The return-to-play protocol consists of five phases. Purdy was scheduled to take part in the 49ers’ walk-through activity on Wednesday, which signals he is back to his baseline level.

But because of Purdy’s later-than-normal start to the five-part return-to-play protocol, the 49ers very well could take the field with Darnold on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The 49ers (5-2) will look to avoid a three-game losing streak before heading into the bye week.

Purdy has been exceptional since taking over last season due to injuries to Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, so he obviously gives the 49ers their best chance to win.

But his worst two statistical games have come in the past two weeks in losses to the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota.

Purdy has thrown three interceptions in his past six quarters of action. His one-touchdown, two-interception game on Monday night was the first time he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in an NFL game.

If the 49ers turn to Darnold, they will be putting the game in the hands of a player with the physical skills worthy of being the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

“He’s an accurate, decisive thrower, good with his reads and everything,” said 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward, who goes up against Darnold daily as the scout team quarterback.

“If we need him this week — because I heard something might be going on — if he’s out there, I expect him to go out there and put up some points.”

And, clearly, that’s what coach Kyle Shanahan expects, too.

Shanahan was impressed with Darnold’s ability to throw the ball from the moment he stepped on the field during the offseason program.

Darnold is a more accurate and refined passer than Lance. And the 49ers also value Darnold’s extensive NFL experience, consisting of five seasons with 55 starts.

Of course, a lot of that experience while with the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers was not great, either.

Darnold completed 59.7 percent of his NFL pass attempts with 61 touchdowns and 55 interceptions. His career passer rating is 78.2.

Shanahan believed Darnold started to create separation from Lance during the final couple weeks of their competition during training camp.

That is when Shanahan informed Lance, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, he was going with Darnold as Purdy’s backup.

Two days later, the 49ers closed the book on Lance, trading him to the Dallas Cowboys for a 2024 fourth-round draft pick.

Darnold stuck with the 49ers as a noteworthy insurance policy.

The 49ers signed him to a one-year, $5.7 million contract in the offseason — a deal that pays him approximately six times more than Purdy.

The moment Purdy is cleared to return to action, he will step back into the 49ers’ huddle.

If the 49ers must turn to Darnold against the Bengals, the team will not change their offense in any way. Darnold can make every throw in the team’s playbook.

The only question is whether Darnold can play with the same timing, anticipation and precision as Purdy.

Shanahan has liked Darnold ever since he evaluated him in the lead-up to the 2018 draft. At the time, he thought Darnold would be a nice fit for his offensive scheme.

Right now, there appears to be a good chance everybody will get a chance to see it all unfold on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

Download and follow the 49ers Talk Podcast