LAS VEGAS – Game manager.

For the San Francisco 49ers, those might be the two most vexing words of Super Bowl week (aside from “practice field,” of course, but that’s a whole other story). But it’s a label that’s been attached to quarterback Brock Purdy with what seems like a certain level of disparagement. Conversely, Kansas City Chiefs counterpart and two-time league MVP Patrick Mahomes has been praised lately for his prowess as, yup, a “game manager.”

So what gives? Why the shade aimed at a guy – meaning Purdy – who was an MVP finalist for the 2023 season, compounded by a double standard?

“I don’t have the strongest arm in the world, or I may not be making crazy, flashy plays like other guys around the league,” said Purdy. “At the end of the day, if we’re looking at the main goal, it’s about winning – and, so, I feel like I can do that well.”

Uh, understatement.

Sunday, Purdy will become the seventh quarterback in Super Bowl history to start in just his second NFL season – and could become the fifth to win it, joining the likes of Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson. Purdy has now prevailed in four of his five playoff starts, the loss occurring at the 2022 NFC championship game – when a first-quarter injury to his throwing elbow effectively rendered him unable to pass.

“There’s 32 teams in the NFL, and there’s not a lot of people that can come in and play the quarterback position well in the NFL – it’s a hard job,” he said. “So if you’re saying that I’m a game manager, and I don’t look flashy in how I do it – I mean that’s your opinion, and that’s OK. And at the end of the day, I want to do what it takes to help my team win.”

This season was Purdy’s first as San Francisco’s full-time starter. All he did was throw 31 touchdown passes, lead the league with a 113.0 passer rating, win 12 of 16 starts and amass a franchise-record 4,280 yards through the air. (And San Francisco is a franchise defined by legendary quarterbacks like Joe Montana and Steve Young). Purdy is an underrated athlete and consistently makes underappreciated throws to his receivers that are airborne before they even come open on a given route.

Still, game manager.

“I feel like people who see the term ‘game manager’ as negative should remember that’s the sole job of a quarterback – that’s our only job. So it’s funny when people use that in a negative connotation. That is the position we play – you have to manage your teammates, you have to manage the offense, you have to manage the game – that is what our position requires,” Blaine Gabbert, who is Mahomes’ backup, told USA TODAY Sports.

“And there are so many layers to being a quote ‘game manager.’ You have to take care of the football, executing on first and second down, (to get to) a manageable third down. We look at that as almost a compliment because if you’re labeled a game manager, that means you’re winning and you’re doing a great job of playing the position.”

And Purdy has done exactly that.

Sure, he’s surrounded by weapons like Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle – the first running back, wide receiver, tight end quartet with each player posting 1,000 yards from scrimmage in the same season. And sure, Purdy’s had some clunkers and the offense has sputtered periodically, notably when Samuel isn’t on the field.

But such stretches have been the exception. And so has the astronomical production from a player who was the final pick of the 2022 draft.

“The thing that bothers me is just the fact that Brock deserves an immense out of credit. He’s played in the NFC championship his first two years, and the Super Bowl in his second year. He’s done an unbelievable job. I don’t understand why we discredit that – normally we love an underdog story. This would be like a Hollywood movie – ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ to the Super Bowl in two years,” three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and current CBS analyst J.J. Watt told USA TODAY Sports.

“He didn’t bring any of this upon himself – all he did is go out there and do his job.”

Yet it seems Purdy’s sublime execution of his assignments – and some critics knock him as merely being an extension of Kyle Shanahan, as if the Niners head coach is making the plays with the baby-faced passer as his avatar – is another puzzling knock against him.

“It’s such a weird conversation to hear the whole world talking about this,” Shanahan said on NFL Network during the Super Bowl’s Monday opening night. “In my opinion, there’s no such thing as a great quarterback if you can’t be a game manager. So, I don’t get how being a system quarterback or a game manager is a negative.

“Like, the job of a quarterback is to manage the game, and it is to run the system. The system is what you work on all week. … And at quarterback, if you want to be great, you better be able to run that system and you better be able to manage the game.

“Understand that no system is going to be perfect – there’s going to be times where you have no answers. If you want to stay there, you better make some plays. That’s how you become a consistent quarterback. You’re a game manager, you run the system right and you can make plays.”

One guy who can make plays is Mahomes. His legend has been built on no-look passes, left-handed chucks, field-flipping throws, sideline-to-sideline scrambles ending with a drive-extending play or even an unlikely touchdown.

But after a 2023 campaign when his normally fantasy-fueling numbers were depressed but his interception count climbed to a career-worst 14, he’s been showered with praise during Kansas City’s playoff march – connecting on 68% of his throws, posting a 100.7 passer rating, committing nary a turnover and helming several clock-milking drives, particularly in the AFC championship game at Baltimore, where the Chiefs didn’t score after halftime.

But what game management …

“The last four games Patrick Mahomes has played were probably four of the best-managed games he’s ever played,” former Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms told USA TODAY Sports. “He’s been patient, reading everything right, accurate, relaxed, doing whatever the team needs, and that’s the epitome of being a game manager. Everything. Taking control of the huddle. Know the situations like a coach.

“Of course it’s a double standard – the people who can’t accept that Brock Purdy played well this year. I don’t get it. We should be celebrating what he did. … Yeah, I know faults in his game, but I know what he’s damn good at, too. Winning, and being in the Super Bowl, and putting up the numbers.”

Added Watt: “I mean besides the physical talent, the attributes that (Mahomes) has as a player, it’s the experience, it’s the knowledge, it’s the poise, it’s the way he can lead the team – he knows how to keep the ship calm in all situations.

“It’s about not making the big mistake and kinda letting the other team put pressure on themselves, he’s so good at doing that. But then at the same time, he can also make that one big play or that one big drive when he has to. He understands the game really well. He’s a special, special player.”

Brady was a special player. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Seven Lombardi Trophies, more than any other NFL franchise? Knew every detail of the playbook, situationally aware, deadly accurate … and very possibly might have been denigrated for his limitations had he not started filling up his fingers with rings at an early age. Heck, TB12 most certainly couldn’t run like Purdy, whose 48 rushing yards in the championship round nearly matched 2023 league MVP Lamar Jackson (54).

“You could say Tom’s the best game manager of all time because he has seven Super Bowl rings. When you’re a great manager, you’re a great quarterback,” said Gabbert, Brady’s backup during his three-year stay with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“There’s always going to be a narrative – right, wrong or indifferent. Brock’s playing great football. It is clear, it’s evident there’s a reason they’re in the Super Bowl.”

And the same has to be said of Mahomes, who’s had to adapt to life without All-Pro game wrecker Tyreek Hill and an ever-evolving cast of wide receivers the past two seasons – and has done so by continuing to win at the highest level while adjusting his own game accordingly.

“(I) understand I’ve got to get the ball out of my hands,” Mahomes said Thursday, acknowledging he’s been more inclined to remain in the pocket than extending plays with his legs and hoping to convert a low-percentage play. “I gotta be smart about not taking negative plays.”

And maybe the rest of us need to be smart about appreciating a young man like Purdy, who’s accomplishing so much that players with far more impressive “measurables” and contracts conferred by loftier draft status could only dream of.

Still, keep an eye on that woodwork if the 49ers come up short.

“If they win, I guess he’ll get some credit but begrudgingly from a lot of people,” said Simms. “But if they lose? I don’t care if he plays a really good game – they’re gonna nitpick and find things. It’s the nature of the business, I don’t get it. Tell the damn truth, that’s all.”

Truth is, Sunday will be a matchup of two rare quarterbacks who are elite, no matter how they manage to be so.