Every time the 49ers encountered difficulty this season, they dipped their bucket into a reservoir of fortitude and found a solution until Sunday.
This time, no solutions were offered. The container was bare. And after losing 31-7 to the top-seeded Eagles in the NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field, the season is officially gone.
Part of why the 49ers aren’t playing in the Super Bowl is that they finally ran out of quarterbacks. They lost their starting quarterback Brock Purdy in the middle of the first quarter due to an elbow injury (a UCL sprain awaiting an MRI), and their backup Josh Johnson left the game in the third with a concussion.
This was how the 49ers’ season was supposed to conclude. They had avoided danger twice this season after losing a starting quarterback to injury, first by going to Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 2 to replace Trey Lance (broken ankle) and then in Week 13 by turning to Purdy after Garoppolo fractured his foot.
If a team has one competent backup, they are often lucky. When they discovered Purdy, a rookie selected in the seventh round and the last choice in the 2022 draught, the 49ers were down to Level 3 of their depth chart. However, throughout his seven starts, the former Iowa State standout helped the offense rank No. 1 in scoring, defying what observers had every right to expect.
Purdy’s performance was appreciated and unexpected; his composure and playmaking belied his lack of experience. He wasn’t the main factor in their third consecutive trip to the NFC Championship Game, but he was an important one.
Seven minutes remained in the first quarter when the injury happened on his sixth play from the line of scrimmage. He said that when linebacker Haason Reddick struck his arm in an attempt to throw downfield, he had discomfort from his elbow to his wrist. It was difficult to avoid wondering whether the Niners had finally fallen victim to destiny at that moment. However, they had trained their athletes to anticipate the pleasant and unexpected.
They were confident that Johnson, a journeyman picked in 2008, could perform even though he had just joined the club in December since they had a strong squad constructed for complimentary play. When running back Christian McCaffrey took up the slack and accounted for all but two yards on a 46-yard touchdown drive that knotted the game at seven late in the second quarter, their belief was justified for a little time.
However, on the first play of the third quarter, with the 49ers down 21-7, Johnson was downed by defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and slammed his head on the ground, resulting in a concussion. It’s terrible to lose one quarterback in a season. Losing both could be better. Three losses are too many to overcome. Am I down four? There are no adequate words to describe it, not even for a club that has won 12 straight games.
Trent Williams, the left tackle, said that winning a regular-season game, much alone the NFC Championship, is only possible with a quarterback.
Linebacker Fred Warner added: “When Josh entered after Brock had fallen, the response was: “It’s all okay.” 7-7. Josh has experience. He has come here. He fell, however, and we had no idea who was entering. Kyle Juszczyk, a fullback, was believed to be the backup quarterback. In our defense, we didn’t deny what we believed. But to get us back in the game, we needed three pick-sixes or knocked a ball loose twice. It didn’t take place.”
After Johnson left, Purdy returned to the field, realizing he was just there for handoffs. His two short throws, which gained 1 and 3 yards, were his only attempts at an aerial assault. During that period, McCaffrey only tried one additional pass for the 49ers, which was incomplete.
No one seemed to be more sad than Purdy, who expressed that his experienced teammates would not have another opportunity to compete in or win a Super Bowl. As he remained on the sidelines after the Eagles’ protest of the decision that an incomplete pass occurred on the play where he was struck, he wanted to be there for them but sensed something was wrong (the call was overturned to a recovered fumble for Philadelphia).
“My arm seemed to be becoming longer. From my elbow to my wrist, it felt like a bunch of shocks were hitting me. Back and forth. Nothing but discomfort, “added Purdy, who contacted coach Kyle Shanahan immediately. “I said, “I can’t throw it far if we run a play,” right there. It hurts terribly, at least for this play. If it’s okay, if we’re going to receive a finish, please make it brief.”
This is an important distinction: Even if Purdy had been healthy for the whole game, there is no guarantee San Francisco would have triumphed. Philadelphia has been the league’s most reliable squad, if not the poorest club, the whole season. After winning their first eight games and going 14-3, the Eagles lost two games when quarterback Jalen Hurts was out with a shoulder injury.
They have a strong offensive line and outside players who can make huge plays, and they ran the ball for 148 yards on 44 runs on Sunday. They have a strong secondary on defense. Reddick, who finished with two sacks, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery against the 49ers, is one of the league’s most underrated pass rushers.
But it’s also true that the 49ers were like a fighter with his hands tied behind his back.
George Kittle, a tight end, remarked that wearing two quarterbacks when none of them can pass and neither of them is available “sort of restricts what you can do, kind of limits our repertoire to like 15 plays.” “Six players were lined up on the line of scrimmage as soon as Purdy entered the game. The box was filled. Since we can’t play off it, we had no choice except to sprint into it.”
At that time, according to Kittle, people just wanted to have fun and “be aggressive.”
That might be our message: F it, he said. “What other options do you have? Either you’re going to roll over and die, or you’re going to get up, be physical, and do whatever it takes to get something nice on camera. We could not get all of the 49er football we had hoped to have on video, but life has a way of knocking you for a loop.”
When Kittle acknowledged it was “s——y” to lose two quarterbacks and a game in the conference championship, he spoke for many others in the locker room. San Francisco did not play a clean game at the same time. It had three lost fumbles and 11 penalties for 81 yards, but it claimed several of them were, at best questionable. Still …
“Can’t line it up any worse than that,” said Warner, “not having Brock be able to throw the football and then having Josh go out.” “We had to stop them and limit them to seven points on defense, but we failed. Just unfortunate. Complementary football didn’t work out for us in the most serious situation today. And it’s awful.”