49ers lose disastrous NFC championship after early Purdy injury derails Super Bowl dream

© Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

This was nightmarish in ways that were previously unfathomable.

The 49ers are not going to the Super Bowl. There’s not all that much they could have done to alter their fate on Sunday, in a catastrophic 31-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

It ended, for all intents and purposes, with Brock Purdy’s early departure. Purdy was strip sacked and injured on a free rush from Haason Reddick with seven minutes left in the first quarter, and suffered a reported nerve injury in his elbow.

That was it. The scoreline doesn’t reflect just how outrageous and disappointing of a loss it was.

Josh Johnson came in and crumbled, fumbling of his own accord to turn a one-possession game into a two-possession game before the half. Then he was injured, too, when Ndamukong Suh slammed him to the ground and his head snapped back.

There were a few key moments that shaped the game, mostly early.

Two flash points, early in the game, revolved around key coaching decisions.

Philadelphia scored on its opening drive, with a Devonta Smith one-handed catch on fourth and 3 setting up a Miles Sanders touchdown run.

Smith, after the “catch,” immediately motioned to the Eagles to get a play off quick. They did, and only after a commercial break did the broadcast show an angle definitively showing the ball was bobbled and appeared to hit the ground.

Kyle Shanahan and his staff did not challenge the play, and the NFL’s officiating review crew in New York did not amend the call in real time, with Mike Pereira — on the broadcast — saying they didn’t have the angle later shown on TV.

That made it 7-0 Eagles.

The 49ers’ ensuing drive is what ended the game and it begged a question of Shanahan, who opted to block the Eagles’ best pass rusher in Reddick, with Tyler Kroft. Kroft had been benched the game prior for Ross Dwelley.

Reddick strip-sacked Purdy, but it was initially called an incomplete pass. Nick Sirianni challenged, gaining the ball back for the Eagles.

San Francisco’s defense, which was excellent all game, forced a stop.

And for a moment, it looked like the 49ers might have a chance. Christian McCaffrey ripped off a 23-yard touchdown run that was about half a Marshawn Lynch beast quake. The game was tied 7-7.

But Philadelphia tallied another touchdown before the half, courtesy of penalties. There were three penalties leading to Eagles first downs on a drive which ended with an easy, second touchdown run for Sanders.

The 49ers had a chance to go into the half down by just one score, with the knowledge that they’d get the ball back.

But Josh Johnson took his eye off the ball. He fumbled a flawless shotgun snap, then failed, inexplicably, to fall on the ball.

Philadelphia recovered and promptly went up 21-7 with a Boston Scott touchdown.

Maybe the 49ers could muster something in the second half, though? Kyle Shanahan’s scripted drives are usually excellent.


That was when Suh slammed Johnson to the ground — the sort of play that would generally net a penalty for a higher-profile quarterback — causing him a concussion and knocking him out of the game.

It’s hard to understate just how sad the state of affairs were at that point.

The 49ers did not have a quarterback who could throw the ball.

The bleakest point came in the fourth quarter. Down by three touchdowns, and with Purdy unable to throw the football, Shanahan opted to leave him in the game.

San Francisco continued to run the ball, ending their drive on a hapless fourth and 2 that lost four yards.

It asked questions of Shanahan. Why not run the wildcat, at least put the ball immediately in the hands of your playmakers instead of wasting one eligible player in Purdy?

It was a hopeless situation, but it was an approach that felt like a wave of the white flag. Down three scores, you’d like to see some sort of attempt at innovation, or “empty the playbook” creativity. There was nothing to find but darkness.

There were heaps of time left, and as such, tempers eventually flared. A late scuffle saw Trent Williams and Eagles safety K’Von Wallace ejected from the game.

Distraught, exhausted 49ers faces were spread across the sidelines as the clock, at long last, ticked down.

We will long wonder what would have happened if Purdy didn’t get knocked out of this game.

All we know now is the 49ers have lost in the NFC championship for the second straight year, and there was not much they could’ve done about it.


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