The Philadelphia Eagles are headed to Super Bowl LVII after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC Championship Game that will be remembered for physicality, injuries and penalties.
A clash between two of the best teams in football didn’t quite live up to the hype. On San Francisco’s first drive of the game, he suffered an elbow injury that forced 36-year-old journeyman quarterback Josh Johnson into action.
While Philadelphia scored a touchdown on its opening drive, its offense was stifled by the 49ers for the majority of the first half. Both offenses struggled to move the ball until midway through the first quarter when Christian McCaffrey turned a short field into a 23-yard touchdown. Philadelphia immediately responded with a go-ahead touchdown followed by another score after Johnson fumbled the snap, turning a 7-7 tie into a 21-7 Eagles lead at halftime.
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San Francisco’s first drive in the second half only made things worse. Johnson suffered a head injury, forcing Kyle Shanahan to put an injured Purdy back into the game. Already at a physical disadvantage in the trenches, this proved to be the final setback for the 49ers.
Let’s dive into our takeaways from the NFC Championship Game.
Philadelphia Eagles are the best team in the NFL
San Francisco took the field as the hottest team in the NFL, winning 12 consecutive games with a third-string quarterback under center. While Lincoln Financial Field provided a hostile environment, many thought the 49ers’ defensive and coaching advantages would lead to a victory.
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While the Eagles certainly benefitted from the 49ers’ quarterback situation, they simply proved to be the better football team. Philadelphia won the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball, especially past the midway point in the second quarter when the Eagles’ RPO became so effective.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. With Jalen Hurts under center, Philadelphia only lost one game this season and that required multiple turnovers and bad officiating. The Eagles have the best offense in the NFL with a defense that should be considered one of the best in the last decade. A stacked roster won the NFC Championship Game and it will likely lead to Philadelphia holding a Super Bowl parade.
Self-inflicted wounds doomed the San Francisco 49ers
Heading into the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers only ranked 13th in penalties per game (5.3) and they were even more levelheaded in the first two playoff games (six total penalties).
The self-inflicted wounds start with the penalties. On the Eagles’ second touchdown drive, the 49ers committed three penalties. An illegal use of the hands wiped out a sack that would’ve resulted in a 3rd-and-12, a defensive pass interference nullified a third-down stop and an illegal contact flag turned a 3rd-and-9 into a first down inside the red zone.
After committing six penalties in the first two playoff games, San Francisco committed six in the first half of the NFC Championship Game. However, the mental mistakes extend beyond the players’ decisions with coaching also hurting the 49ers’ offense.
Whatever game plan the 49ers had coming into this game for blocking assignments seemingly forgot about Haason Reddick. Because of how San Francisco lined up, the Pro Bowl edge rusher kept getting one-on-one matchups against tight ends or was even left completely unblocked.
The end result was two sacks for Reddick, including one that caused Purdy’s injury. It’s also fair to wonder if the 49ers might’ve been better off settling for a 14-7 deficit at halftime. Instead, Shanahan trusted Johnson to try and lead a scoring drive. The chaos of the fast-tempo offense likely played a role in Johnson’s fumble, turning into another Eagles’ touchdown with the aid of a sixth 49ers’ penalty.
All of this isn’t to mention what happened late in the game, when San Francisco lost its composure. Abnormal mental mistakes led to the early deficit and once the game was lost, the discipline and patience of the 49ers’ players went out the door with it.
Philadelphia’s investments in the trenches paid off
One of the biggest reasons the Philadelphia Eagles won the NFC Championship Game is how they played inside the box. Seeing the entire Eagles’ defensive line create havoc and their offensive line create running lanes for Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell, paved the way to a victory.
Investments in both areas made this happen. According to Spotrac, Philadelphia spent $59 million on its offensive line (4th in NFL) and $44.6 million on its defensive line (9th in NFL). It also excels at identifying talent, with the entire starting offensive line homegrown. While there is talent everywhere on this roster, the biggest difference-makers on this Super Bowl run can be found near the line of scrimmage.
Christian McCaffrey found the perfect home
While winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate prize, the San Francisco 49ers can feel great about the Christian McCaffrey trade. They took a gamble by paying the equivalent of a first-round pick for an oft-injured player, but he proved his value to this franchise ever since he arrived.
McCaffrey is also why the 49ers’ quarterback situation in 2023 doesn’t matter. Whether it’s Trey Lance or Purdy under center, they will be a point guard in an offense that revolves around McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.
As long as he stays healthy, McCaffrey is a lock for an All-Pro spot in 2023 and should be the favorite for Offensive Player of the Year. He simply fits perfectly in Shanahan’s offense and all the little things he can do with the football make life easier for a less-talented quarterback.