The 2023 NFC Championship game began with the beautiful vocals of Grammy Award winner Anita Baker, but it ended in disbelief. No one imagined that the 49ers would lose this way. Consider these facts: During this season, the San Francisco 49ers won 12 games after they traded for Christian McCaffrey. Four quarterbacks suited up for the team during the season and playoffs – Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance, Brock Purdy, and Josh Johnson.
The NFC Championship game quickly became a “Philly Thing,” the slogan shouted by every Philly fan as the Eagles routed the 49ers, 31-7. The Niners won their last eight games with quarterback Brock Purdy, who was third on the depth roster, drafted last in 2022, called Mr. Irrelevant, defied the odds, and became relevant. And this was the Niners’ third conference title game in four years.
Many, many storylines emerged from the game; the 49ers could not keep a healthy quarterback on the field, the great defensive play of the Eagles, the valiant efforts of the 49ers defense to keep them in the game, the almost brawl that saw two players ejected from the game and those Eagles fans, so sure of victory they began celebrating at the top of the fourth quarter.
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To say that it wasn’t the 49er’s day is not only an understatement but doesn’t begin to convey the failure of the team to overcome a myriad of challenges they faced during the game. The 49ers started the game with Brock Purdy at quarterback, only to see him leave the game with a right elbow injury in the first quarter. Enter backup quarterback Josh Johnson, the fourth quarterback on the roster, who left the game in the third quarter with a concussion. This forced the return of a brave Purdy to finish the game. Twitter users had a field day with this quarterback merry-go-round. In case you’re wondering what starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had to say about it all:
“I wish I had a helmet,” Garoppolo said as he exited the locker room at Lincoln Financial Field.
And niner tight end George Kittle summed up the night ideally when asked about the loss of their quarterbacks to injuries:
“How does it feel to lose an NFC Championship Game because I don’t have a quarterback? Pretty sh–ty, to be honest,” Kittle said.
How did the Eagles win? They did it with phenomenal play on both sides of the ball, especially on defense. Edge rusher Haason Reddick had three tackles, two sacks, a hit on the quarterback, a forced fumble, and a recovered fumble.
“Shoooooot! We been sayin’, ‘It’s a Philly Thing,’ “Reddick said. And it is. It really is. To do it like we did it … it is.”
The Eagles’ defense recorded an unbelievable 78 sacks this season in 19 games, with 19 ½ of those attributed to Reddick. Reddick’s early hit on Purdy caused his departure from the game, and despite his efforts to return, Purdy could not throw the ball, forcing the Niners to throw short passes or run the ball. The exit of backup quarterback Johnson was the work of Eagles tackle Ndamukong Suh, known for his punishing defensive play.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, drafted as a backup to Carson Wentz, reflected on the Eagles organization and their fans’ less than enthusiastic desire to draft him in 2020. That was then, but now players and fans are calling Hurts their man whom they hope will lead them to the promised land. Hurts completed 15-of-25 passes for 121 yards, rushing for 39 yards, and one touchdown on 11 carries.
Other stars of the night for the Eagles; Kenneth Gainwell had 14 carries for 48 yards and two catches for 26 yards, and Miles Sanders rushed for 42 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.
San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy finished with 23 yards on 4-of-4 passing, with backup QB Johnson completing 7-of-13 passes for 74 yards. 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey scored their lone touchdown with a 23-yard run to tie the game at 7-7 in the first half. McCaffrey finished with 18 touches for 106 yards and an incomplete pass.
With four minutes left in the game and the Eagles leading 31-7, another notable moment happened when San Francisco left tackle Trent Williams body-slammed Eagles safety K’Von Wallace into the ground. Both benches emptied as pushing and shoving ensued until the referees ordered both teams back to their respective sidelines. The mele ended with the ejections of both Wallace and Williams.
In the end, the biggest winners were the Eagles fans, who celebrated the entire fourth quarter with a melody of songs…Living on a Prayer, Shout (you make me wanna)…Fly Eagles fly. The party was on at Lincoln Financial Field, as the Birds will meet the Kansas City Chiefs on February 12, hoping that Super Bowl LVII is a “Philly Thing.”