The hugely anticipated NFC Championship between the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles unfortunately was not much of a game.
In a choppy, penalty-filled, ill-tempered affair at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles stamped their ticket to the Super Bowl with an emphatic 31-7 win over the 49ers, who by the third quarter had no healthy quarterbacks active on the roster. Quarterback Jalen Hurts (15/25 for 121 yards) was not at his best throwing the ball, but the Eagles rushing attack racked up well over 100 yards and four touchdowns against the best defense in the NFL.
The outcome of the game was essentially determined in the first quarter. A magnificent one-handed catch by DeVonta Smith on fourth and 3 turned out not to be a catch at all, but Kyle Shanahan did not throw the challenge flag. Miles Sanders scored two plays later to give the Eagles the early 7-0 lead.
Rookie quarterback Brock Purdy got hit by Haason Reddick as he was trying to throw the ball, and while the pass was initially ruled incomplete, it was overturned to a lost fumble upon Nick Sirianni’s challenge. The good news for the 49ers is that they didn’t allow any points off the turnover, but the bad news was Purdy suffered an elbow injury that led to Josh Johnson subbing in.
As the 49ers defense held down the Eagles offense, running back Christian McCaffrey evened the score with a truly ridiculous touchdown that had Eagles tacklers pinballing off of him. That would be the end of the scoring and any semblance of a sustained drive for the 49ers.
The dam burst when the Eagles went on a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that featured a critical fourth-and-1 conversion by Jalen Hurts at his own 35, as well as several penalties on an uncharacteristically ill-disciplined 49ers team. It went from bad to worse for the 49ers when Josh Johnson fumbled a perfectly fine snap, which the Eagles recovered and capitalized with a Boston Scott score.
It went from worse to unrecoverable from a San Francisco perspective when Johnson was knocked out of the game with a concussion on a hit by Ndamukong Suh. Purdy returned to the game, but it was very obvious he couldn’t throw at all, and he ended the game just 4/4 for 23 yards. Even in a must-score situation, Kyle Shanahan resorted to a series of running plays that took time off the clock and obviously didn’t generate points.
A 15-play, 91-yard drive extended by a roughing the punter penalty on the 49ers’ Jordan Mason proved to be the dagger. Hurts and that nearly unstoppable quarterback sneak plowed into the end zone to put the game out of reach.
San Francisco finished with just 164 yards of total offense, 11 first downs, and 11 accepted penalties for 81 yards, including an ejection for star left tackle Trent Williams as tensions boiled over. Philadelphia had 25 first downs (seven by penalty) and their 148 rushing yards were the second-most the 49ers defense has allowed all season. It’s a difficult way for the 49ers’ 12-game win streak to come to an end, and just like last year, their season ends on the road in the NFC Championship.
While the injuries to Purdy and Johnson were unfortunate, it cannot be emphasized enough that Philadelphia’s deep and remarkably talented defensive front was fantastic and made life miserable for San Francisco’s offense from the opening series. Whichever team comes out of the AFC will have a serious problem to contend with down in Glendale.
Two years ago, the Eagles were 4-11-1 and the clock was winding down on the Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson era. Now with the QB/coach combo of Jalen Hurts and Nick Sirianni the Eagles are on the cusp of a second Lombardi Trophy in six seasons.