By Nick Murray
Last Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers gifted the Niners Faithful their second NFC Championship loss in a row, falling 31-7 to the first seed Philadelphia Eagles. Unlike the potentially game sealing dropped interception by Safety Jaquaski Tartt in 2022, last week’s game was practically over in the first half following a series of disasters both in and out of the teams control.
The San Francisco 49ers were led to their third NFC Conference Championship in 4 years by last overall rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. Purdy was the team’s third starting quarterback of the season after second year quarterback Trey Lance and veteran Jimmy Goroppolo both sustained season ending injuries. The 49ers had won 12 straight games entering Sunday’s matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles including 7 wins with Purdy under center. Unfortunately, San Francisco’s game plan began to unravel almost immediately.
During the 49ers opening series, fourth string tight end Tyler Kroft was tasked with blocking 2022 second place sack leader Haason Reddick. Reddick sent Kroft into the dirt, hitting Purdy’s arm mid throw in what was initially ruled an incomplete pass. However, upon further review, game officials ruled the play was a fumble caused by Reddick. After the play, Purdy was evaluated for an elbow injury, believed to be an injury to his ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm. While the injury is not expected to sideline him for long, it made throwing nearly impossible. Purdy was replaced by the 49ers fourth string quarterback Josh Johnson who has played for 14 different NFL teams since being drafted in 2008. Purdy would later reenter the game out of necessity, throwing only twice in the second half after Johnson suffered a concussion in the third quarter. Johnson completed 7 of 13 pass attempts for 74 yards and a 70.7 rating before exiting the game with a concussion early in the third quarter. However, Johnson will primarily be remembered as a catalyst to the Eagles scoring 14 points in the final 1:40 of the second quarter. Johnson fumbled the snap with 1:11 left, eventually leading to the Eagles scoring a third touchdown. Despite the game being tied at 7 apiece with a 1:40 left in the half, the Eagles entered the locker room up 21-7 thanks to touchdowns for both running back Miles Sanders and Boston Scott.
In the Eagles opening drive, Jalen Hurts connected with second year receiver DeVonta Smith for 29 yards on 4th and 3. Replay later revealed that Smith’s catch did not “survive the ground” and would have been overturned had 49ers head coach Kyle Shannahan challenged the ruling. Instead, Smith’s “catch” setup the Eagles on the 6 yard line for an opening drive touchdown as the Eagles ranked second in opening drive touchdowns this year. Philadelphia would go on to score 4 rushing touchdowns, the most allowed by the 49ers defense this season.
Rushing touchdowns weren’t the only problem on the 49er’s defense however. The defense managed to limit the Eagles in the first quarter, forcing several punts, allowing Christian McCaffrey to score a highlight reel touchdown to tie the game in the beginning of the second quarter. For the remainder of the game however, the defense allowed 24 points which was tied for third most points allowed by the 49ers this season. In an otherwise stellar year for defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ defense, ranking second in yards per game and first in points per game, the Niners lacked discipline. They recorded 11 penalties for 81 yards including 3 penalties in the Eagles second scoring drive alone. For comparison, the Eagles who were neck and neck for best defense in 2022 with the 49ers only recorded 4 penalties for 34 yards. In what could have been a turnaround moment for the 49ers, in a fourth down punt by the Eagles, 49ers backup running back Jordan Mason caused a roughing the punter flag, giving the Eagles 15 yards and a first down, eventually leading to a fourth touchdown and effectively ending the game. Kyle Shannahan was livid on the sideline, voicing his fury to officials after replay showed Mason being shoved into the punter involuntarily.
With 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter, 49ers All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams and Eagles Safety K’von Wallace were ejected after a fight broke out following a third down run in which Williams slammed Wallace to the ground amid players from both benches entering the field. Encapsulating the 49ers collapse, All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel fumbled the ball on a jet sweep with 49 seconds left in the game, concluding his night with 3 receptions for 24 yards and -9 rushing yards. The 49ers depressing performance in the NFC Championship will most be remembered for having 3 different players throw the ball including running back Christian McCaffrey, the abysmal 49ers offense, and the wildly undisciplined 49ers defense.