January 29, 2023
Grease the poles, the Philadelphia Eagles are headed back to the Super Bowl after beating the San Francisco 49ers in an uncompetitive NFC Championship Game, 31-7. As always, win, lose, or tie, we hand out 10 awards.
On their first drive of the game, the Eagles drove down to the Niners' 35 yard line, where they faced a 4th and 3. Nick Sirianni opted to go for it instead of trying a long field goal.
Jalen Hurts' initial read(s) weren't there, so he bought time by rolling left, and threw something of a semi-desperation pass down the field to Smith, who made what looked like an incredible one-handed catch.
Slow motion replays showed that it was questionable whether Smith's catch was aided by the ground. Catch or no catch, Smith displayed his insane body control on the play, as he has done all season. Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan didn't challenge, and the Eagles scored two plays later.
It was essentially a seven-point catch.
Hanging onto challenges isn't as important as it used to be, since clearly wrong calls are fixed on the field without coaches needing to use their challenges. Hindsight is 20-20 and whatnot, but because Smith's catch was such a game-altering play, Shanahan probably should've challenged it. He didn't, and the Eagles were off and rolling.
Shanahan's next big mistake was having anything in the game plan that required a tight end to block Haason Reddick. Here's how that worked out on their first drive:
That was not only a sack-fumble, but it also knocked Brock Purdy out of the game with an elbow injury. On the Niners' second drive, Shanahan didn't learn his lesson, as he once again tried to block Reddick with a receiver (No. 15, Jauan Jennings), and George Kittle. But Reddick got off the snap so quickly that neither player slowed him down at all, and Reddick crushed Purdy's replacement, Josh Johnson.
Reddick basically wrecked the 49ers' first two drives of the game, as well as their starting quarterback.
After the Eagles and 49ers traded a few possessions that didn't result in any points, the Niners tied it up with a 23-yard TD run by Christian McCaffrey.
On the ensuing possession, the Eagles faced a 4th and 1 from their own 34-yard yard line. It would have been very easy for Sirianni to punt it back to the Niners, especially with Johnson at quarterback, but he made a pretty big roll of the dice and called a QB sneak, which the Eagles converted. You can take any analytics information that tells you that going for it in that situation is the right thing to do, but it also takes some serious stones to actually do it.
The Eagles would finish that drive with a touchdown. It was a demoralizing, run-heavy, 14-play drive that ate up almost seven minutes and left the Niners only 1:36 in the half to try to score on their ensuing possession.
On that ensuing possession, Johnson simply dropped a snap, and the ball was recovered by... guess who.
Seven free points.
It wasn't just Reddick who wrecked this game. Eagles defensive linemen were crushing the Niners' offensive linemen in their individual matchups, and it felt like Purdy and Johnson were being hit on every pass play.
On the Niners' first drive of the second half, Ndamukong Suh hit Johnson, whose head bounced off of the turf. He would be evaluated for a head injury and his day was over. Because San Francisco didn't have a third quarterback active for this game, Purdy had to come back in, except he couldn't throw as a result of his elbow injury.
Once Johnson was out of the game and it was clear Purdy wasn't going to do anything more than hand the ball off, the game was basically over.
If you weren't an Eagles fan and you were watching at home, it was probably a super boring game to watch. The Eagles ran it a lot because they were trying to drain clock, and the Niners ran it a lot because that's all they could do.
But at Lincoln Financial Field, with a 21-7 lead, boring was good! The Eagles would eventually add 10 more points to the scoreboard, but they didn't really need them, and the entire second half felt like a party at the Linc.
A lot of time and effort went into dissecting Purdy's game in the leadup to this game, and as it turned out, he only attempted four passes. The following Purdy movie poster made the rounds this week:
In the movie "Brocky," Brocky gets knocked out in the first round, is replaced by another boxer who also gets knocked out, and then Brocky re-enters the fight but can't throw any punches.
Hurts didn't have a great game. He missed a number of open receivers and he didn't seem like the elite running quarterback that he was during the first three months of the season, though the Niners' stout run defense probably also had something to do with that. I think it's reasonable to assume that Hurts' shoulder is still affecting him.
The good news is that he'll now have another two weeks of treatment and rest to try to get it right before the Super Bowl.
All 22 Eagles starters were healthy enough to play in the NFC Championship Game. That's pretty remarkable injury luck. Landon Dickerson hurt his arm in this game, and the severity of that injury is to be determined.
The good news is that Lane Johnson said after the game that his adductor injury felt better in this game than it did a week ago against the Giants. That is very encouraging for his prospects of being able to play at a high level in the Super Bowl.
As of this writing, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals are in the third quarter of the AFC Championship Game. Their quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow, are pretty good. #Analysis. Some would argue they're the two best quarterbacks in the NFL. I'll go out on a limb and say they're better than Daniel Jones, Brock Purdy, and Josh Johnson.
In case anyone needs a reminder, the Eagles took down the 🐐 in the Super Bowl five years ago.
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