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Behind a stifling defensive performance, the Philadelphia Eagles punched their ticket to Super Bowl LVII after defeating the San Francisco 49ers 31-7 in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
Quarterback and penalty woes marred San Francisco throughout the game. The Niners were forced to largely rely on the ground game, with running back Christian McCaffrey accounting for their touchdown. All four of the Eagles’ touchdowns were rushing TDs — including two by running back Miles Sanders.
The Eagles will face either the Kansas City Chiefs or Cincinnati Bengals in Glendale, Arizona, on Feb. 12 (6:30 p.m. ET, Fox).
The Eagles didn’t just advance to Super Bowl LVII — they bulldozed their way in. First, a 38-7 trouncing of the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs. Then, a clobbering of the best the NFC had to offer, the San Francisco 49ers, in the NFC Championship Game.
It is the Eagles’ fourth trip to the Super Bowl in their history — their most recent coming in the 2017 season when they won their first Lombardi Trophy. That year, they weren’t favored in any of their playoff games and played the underdog card so hard that players donned dog masks in the wake of each victory. This team, in contrast, has been the class of the conference from start to finish, fully comfortable in the alpha role.
The Eagles leaned into their strengths against the 49ers. The team that had 32 rushing touchdowns in the regular season — third most in NFL history — scored on the ground four times against San Francisco. And a defensive unit that paced the league with 70 sacks had three and seven QB hits despite limited dropbacks because of the injuries to 49ers quarterbacks Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson.
They roll into Glendale, Arizona, knowing they’re at least as good as any team in the league.
Pivotal play: Coach Nick Sirianni’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from Philly’s own 34-yard line midway through the second quarter. Philadelphia has been aggressive on fourth down all season, but to go for it against this 49ers defense in its own territory took some guts. Jalen Hurts picked up the first down on a QB sneak, and the Eagles went on to complete a 14-play, 75-yard drive, with a Sanders touchdown — his second of the day — putting Philly up 14-7.
QB breakdown: It was tough sledding against one of the best defenses in the league. Hurts finished the first half with minus-1 rushing yards, which marked the lowest first-half total of his career as a starting QB. He ended up 15-of-25 for 121 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions through the air but got things going on the ground in the second half, including a 1-yard score late in the third quarter to ice the game.
Describe the game in two words: Punishing defense. Edge rusher Haason Reddick led the way. In the first half alone, when this game was won, Reddick had two sacks, three pressures, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Purdy suffered an elbow injury and Johnson left the game with a concussion, forcing Purdy back in and McCaffrey to handle some quarterback snaps.
Underrated stat to know: Entering this year, the Eagles had rushed for three or more touchdowns in a playoff game only once in their history. They’ve done it twice this year, rushing for four touchdowns Sunday (three in the first half) after running for three scores last week in their divisional round victory over the Giants. — Tim McManus
San Francisco 49ers
In many ways, the 49ers’ season ended Sunday like it began — with a host of questions about what, exactly, is going to happen at quarterback.
This season has been marked by upheaval at the game’s most important position. Most of that was the result of injuries to each of their chosen signal-callers. Through it all, the 49ers, perhaps the least quarterback-dependent team in the NFL, managed to not only survive, but thrive.
It brought them to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday with a chance to get to Super Bowl LVII if only they could knock off the high-powered Eagles
But all of the Niners’ quarterback woes finally caught up to them at the worst possible time. By the end of Sunday’s loss, they could no longer overcome the injuries because they were left without anyone capable of leading the charge.
Hope disappeared when Purdy suffered a right elbow injury on the team’s first offensive series. The Niners turned to Johnson, their fourth quarterback of the season, who was signed from the Denver Broncos’ practice squad on Dec. 6.
Johnson made his first postseason appearance since entering the league in 2009, but it wouldn’t last long. He departed early in the third quarter with a concussion, leaving Purdy, incapable of throwing the ball downfield, to come back in.
And with that, the Niners’ chances of an upset vanished.
In an alternate universe, perhaps Trey Lance would have been able to save the day. Or maybe Jimmy Garoppolo could have put the finishing touches on a remarkable reunion tour. Or Purdy could have become the first rookie quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl. But none of that happened. And now the Niners head into another offseason with plenty of quarterback uncertainty.
Describe the game in two words: Mistake-filled. Given the quarterback situation, the 49ers were already facing an uphill climb Sunday, but they didn’t do themselves any favors with repeated miscues. In addition to their turnovers, the Niners committed 11 penalties for 81 yards, including a handful that kept Philadelphia scoring drives alive.
Stat that matters: Turnovers are the most important indicator in wins and losses for every team, and the Niners have been a prime example this season. Heading into Sunday, the Niners were 15-0 in games in which they had one or fewer turnovers. They were 0-4 when they had two or more.
Against the Eagles, they had three giveaways and lost, continuing the trend from the rest of the season.
Pivotal play: Facing fourth-and-3 at the Niners’ 35 on the game’s opening drive, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni decided to go for it. Hurts lobbed a pass deep down the left sideline for wideout DeVonta Smith, who appeared to make a tremendous diving catch, at least in the eyes of the officials.
But Smith was unsure that he caught it and alertly got his teammates to the line of scrimmage to try to snap the ball before the 49ers could see a replay and issue a challenge. Smith’s ploy worked and the Niners did not challenge, giving the Eagles a first down at San Francisco’s 6. They scored two plays later.
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