The 49ers came into the NFC championship feeling confident about their chances to beat the Eagles and move on to the Super Bowl. San Francisco’s defense was the best in the league, and rookie quarterback Brock Purdy was playing at a high level guiding a versatile array of weapons.
But the team was quickly ravaged by injuries. Purdy injured his elbow on the first offensive possession of the game for San Francisco, bringing in fourth-string quarterback Josh Johnson. On the first drive of the third quarter, Johnson hit his head on the turf and was ruled out with a concussion, bringing Purdy back into the game. Purdy could not throw more than five yards due to his injury, and the vaunted San Francisco offense was reduced to running the football the rest of the game.
The Eagles took advantage of the absence of a quarterback, allowing just one more first down the rest of the game and piling on to a tired defense to win 31-7 and advance to the Super Bowl.
“How’s it feel to lose an NFC championship game because I don’t have a quarterback? Pretty s—y to be honest,” tight end George Kittle said.
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When Johnson was ruled out, the team was left with two decisions: bring in an emergency quarterback or bring Purdy back out. Coach Kyle Shanahan said the team had an emergency package, but that the team just didn’t have a chance to get to it. The team made the decision to send Purdy out to try and keep the normal run game going.
He said Purdy didn’t lobby to come into the game much because he knew he wouldn’t be able to throw the ball.
“He didn’t lobby much because he went in and kept throwing and realized he couldn’t and so there was no really discussion after that. He couldn’t throw, and then when he came in, we had to decide what he could throw and there weren’t too many options at that.”
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Kittle said the injuries to both Johnson and Purdy limited San Francisco’s playbook to about 15 plays. Once Purdy returned to the field, the Eagles knew to expect heavy runs and loaded the box with six defenders. And because the team couldn’t run any play actions, there was little the team could do except run those 15 plays and hope to pick up yardage.
“[Purdy] was just jacked to be able to be out there. I mean he knew, he was like, ‘Hey I mean I’m not gonna be able to throw the ball at all so might as well have fun.’ That was kinda just our message was, you know ‘eff it’, what else are you going to do? You’re just gonna roll over and die, or you’re gonna go out there and be violent, be physical and do everything you can to put something good on tape.
“I’m pumped that my team didn’t quit. They’re fighting and whether there was an actual fight or whether it was doing everything you can to be violent, I love it. Completely terrible circumstance, but you know these boys didn’t quit out there.”
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McCaffrey said he was ready to go in and play quarterback if needed, and that when Johnson came out, it just came down to the team to keep trying to fight through the difficult circumstances.
“Yeah it’s not ideal. It sucks,” McCaffrey said. “You never want to see any of your teammates get hurt, let alone obviously the quarterback position, it’s tough. But you’re never out of the fight though and we believed it and just didn’t turn out our way. We got beaten. Wish we had another shot at it with everybody. But it’s life. It’s the way it goes.”