The NFC Championship game was expected to be a marquee matchup between the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles and second-seeded San Francisco 49ers. How would head coach Kyle Shanahan’s brilliant 49ers offense fare against the No. 3 scoring defense in the league? Would we see Eagles QB Jalen Hurts rise to the moment against the No. 1 defense? What sort of chess matches would play out between two of the most respected coaches in the NFL?
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any of that. Instead, we saw a messy conference championship game marred by injuries, penalties, and sloppy play that led to a 31-7 blowout not worthy of watching beyond the first quarter.
Everything changed on the 49ers’ first possession of the game when starting quarterback Brock Purdy suffered an arm injury on a massive hit from pass rusher Haason Reddick that jarred the ball loose. After receiving treatment on the sidelines, Purdy was determined not healthy enough to return to the game.
That left Josh Johnson—the team’s fourth-string quarterback—to take over. While, at first, it was a neat storyline for Johnson, a player who has been on nearly half of the NFL rosters, when the ball was actually put into the 36-year-old’s hands, it was a disaster. Johnson was responsible for three delay of game penalties, fumbled a snap that quickly turned into 7 Eagles points, and completed just 7-of-13 passes for 73 yards.
To make a bad situation worse, Johnson suffered a concussion on the opening drive of the second half. The 49ers did not have a third quarterback active for the game, so an injured Purdy reentered. With the 49ers down 14 points at this point in the game and Purdy literally unable to throw the ball, Shanahan’s offense had no chance to make up the difference.
Down 21 points late in the third quarter, here were the play calls for the 49ers 10-play drive that resulted in a turnover on downs: run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run.
Poor and invasive officiating didn’t help the viewing experience, either. The Eagles’ biggest play of the game—a fourth-and-3 conversion that went for 29 yards and led to the opening touchdown—turned out to be obviously incomplete, but the officials didn’t catch it live and the 49ers didn’t challenge in time.
The Devonta Smith one-handed catch should've actually been incomplete as the ball clearly hit the ground. Eagles hurried to the line, seems like the 49ers didn't get the correct angle in time. Huge, huge miss.pic.twitter.com/efJ9pmb3sC— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) January 29, 2023
There were also questionable pass interference calls, a roughing the kicker penalty after a player was shoved into the punter, and an odd sequence where a punt appeared to hit the skycam wires, but replays couldn’t confirm it. In total, 15 penalties were called in the game, disrupting the flow.
As for the stars for the game, most were non-factors. Hurts finished with just 121 passing yards and 39 rushing yards. Eagles receivers DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown combined for 64 yards. 49ers tight end George Kittle and receiver Deebo Samuel combined for 60 yards.
But, hey, we did get a pretty ridiculous run from Christian McCaffrey and a full-on fight to end the game. So I guess it wasn’t all for nothing. Still, let’s hope the AFC Championship game provides a little more entertainment to finish off Championship Sunday.