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The 49ers might have been the best team in the NFL, and it’s a damn shame we’ll never know

We’ll never know how good this team could have been.

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The Eagles can be the deserving champions of the NFC, and the 49ers can also be the best team we’ll never know the potential of. These aren’t mutually exclusive notions. Ultimately the most anticipated game of the weekend turned into its most disappointing, and the shame to it all isn’t that Philadelphia won, but rather our path to getting here.

We don’t need to gild the lily anymore: San Francisco ran out of quarterbacks, and that’s why they couldn’t compete on Sunday. I’ve seen people say that’s why the 49ers lost, which is a profoundly different sentiment — and one that I don’t know is entirely fair to Philly. There are just too many variables that go into asserting that a game would have been flipped on the fortunes of a quarterback, but it is safe to say that not having Brock Purdy compete really killed any chance the Niners had before the game really began.

The weirdness to all this is that the 49ers really shouldn’t have been able to make any of this possible. If you pull back to a macro view there’s no scenario is which a team loses its starting quarterback, then loses its backup quarterback — and still pushes all the way to the conference championship, while being the favorite the whole way. That’s entirely a testament to the astounding breakout Purdy had in 2022, a season which could earn him rookie of the year honors.

In the end it was just a bad break. It happens. The wizardry of Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers coaching staff managed to keep this boat afloat for as long as possible, but at some point in time you just can’t find anything else to pull out of the bag of tricks. It might have made for an amazing headline if Josh Johnson found a way to get this team over the hump, but that wasn’t happening against a team as talented as the Eagles.

There’s still a lingering feeling that the 49ers may have been the best team in the NFL this season. They were certainly the best defensive team left in the playoffs, and creative enough on offense to stay in step with better offensive teams. Another 49ers vs. Chiefs Super Bowl might not have been sexy, but it certainly felt like the they had passed every test in front of them and earned their spot.

Again, God, it sounds like I’m saying the Eagles don’t deserve this — and they so do. It’s easy to forget that Philadelphia were hands down the best team in the NFC by record this season, and their path to the playoffs was extremely difficult going through a brutal NFC East that sent three teams to the postseason, and had a fourth on the bubble.

It’s also important to note that while all the talk right now is surrounding how the 49ers could, or should have won if they had a QB — it ignores the fact that the Eagles played severely below their own potential on Sunday. Sure, Haason Reddick was a one-man wrecking crew on defense, but even taking into account the brutal 49ers defense, the Eagles’ offense was still very mediocre. There’s no area in which we saw the best of what Nick Siriani’s offense has to offer, and that’s an element to this too.

In the end we had one team who won, but could have played a lot better — and another that couldn’t have possibly played better out of circumstance. The big shame is that we were robbed of a game that truly should have been legendary.

Winner: Haason Reddick

If there’s one player that defined this game it’s Haason Reddick, and no, I’m not referring to the game-ending hit to Purdy which really flipped this game.

The 49ers had no answer for the ceaseless pressure Reddick brought off the edge. He remains one of the best pass rushers in the NFL that nobody talks about enough. It’s ludicrous that Reddick has recorded 39.5 sacks over the last three seasons, thriving on three different teams, but he’s never discussed amongst the top pass rushers in the NFL.

It’s well past time that Reddick gets recognized as the force he is. The amount of disruption he created ensured the 49ers could never get back in the game and Johnson didn’t have a Cinderella story.

Loser: The Empire State Building

I don’t care that this was something arranged with the NFL ahead of time (it was lit up red for the Chiefs later in the evening), but man... this ain’t it.

We have to have some sensible decision making behind tie ins like this. Who was going to look at the Empire State Building and say “yes, we should make this Eagles colors and everything will be fine”?

Winner: Nick Sirianni

Take a bow, dude, You’ve earned it. Sirianni has been phenomenal this season and getting the Eagles to the Super Bowl cements his place as one of the best coaches in the NFL. Regardless of what happens from this point, we’ve already seen the ascent of the next great offensive coach in the NFL.