PHILADELPHIA — For much of the season, the class of the NFC was not up for debate.
The Philadelphia Eagles, out of the gates with an 8-0 start, clung to that distinction wire to wire. But even as they secured the No. 1 seed and won the NFC East, the question marks appeared. They finished the season with two losses in their final three games. Quarterback Jalen Hurts nursed an injured throwing shoulder, and All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson persevered through a groin injury.
On Sunday, the Eagles confirmed they were the conference’s best team all along with a 31-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game – chippy from warmups to the fourth quarter – to advance to Super Bowl 57.
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Philadelphia overmatched the No. 2-seeded Niners, the only team in the NFC with a better scoring differential than the Eagles, especially when rookie quarterback Brock Purdy exited on the team’s first drive of the game with an elbow injury. Journeyman backup Josh Johnson, signed by the Niners – his seventh NFL team – once Purdy became the starter in December, was 7 of 13 for 74 yards. Purdy returned following the 36-year-old Johnson’s removal because of a concussion, but the play calling indicated his arm was nowhere near full strength.
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Christian McCaffrey (15 rushes, 84 yards) scored the lone Niners touchdown on a 23-yard rush to tie the game at 7 in the second quarter.
Eagles run all over Niners
One week after the Eagles averaged 6.1 yards per carry against the New York Giants in the divisional round, they were at it once more in the ground game.
Running back Miles Sanders scored the first two touchdowns for the Eagles and Boston Scott added another 55 seconds before halftime to give Philadelphia a 21-7 lead .
By the time quarterback Jalen Hurts plunged into the end zone for the team’s final touchdown of the game, the Eagles led by 21 points with 43 seconds left in the third quarter. It was the 15th rushing touchdown for Hurts this season (including the playoffs), the most by a quarterback all time.
Niners had no chance with or without injured Brock Purdy
The Eagles defense presented Purdy with his toughest assignment of the season. He found that out almost immediately.
After two first downs, Haason Reddick – the ringleader of the persistent Philadelphia pass rush – burst off the right edge and plowed into Purdy, who fumbled. The hit resulted in an elbow injury for the rookie looking to become the first-year quarterback to make the Super Bowl.
Reddick had his hand in another turnover late in the first half. Johnson, who struggled with the play clock, dropped the shotgun snap and failed to fall on top of the ball. From the bottom of the pile emerged Reddick with the ball, and the turnover set up the Scott touchdown.
Other than McCaffrey’s touchdown, the Niners offense seldom threatened.
Nick Sirianni bests Kyle Shanahan on challenges
The 49ers won the coin toss but deferred until the second half, meaning that for the second straight game, the Eagles started with the ball. And for the second straight opening drive, Philadelphia scored a touchdown.
Sanders did not find the end zone before Hurts and DeVonta Smith connected to convert a fourth-and-3. Eagles coach Nick Sirianni showed no hesitation leaving the offense on the field at the San Francisco 35-yard line. Hurts rolled out of the pocket to the left. Smith, realizing his former college quarterback was creating outside of the pocket, broke upfield. Hurts threw across his body and Smith leaped, making a one-handed catch.
The most heads-up part of the play, though, was Smith encouraging a quick snap on the next play so San Francisco could not challenge the play. Niners coach Kyle Shanahan balked. Sanders scored two plays later.
Shanahan’s team was also the more undisciplined squad on the field by a wide margin. The Eagles had more first downs via penalty (seven) than passing (six) and the 11 total Niners penalties accounted for 84 yards.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
Story Credit: usatoday.com