A spot in Super Bowl 57 is on the line as the Philadelphia Eagles host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game at Lincoln Financial Field.
The two teams have clearly been the conference’s most dominant powers this season. The Eagles (14-3) had the NFC’s highest-scoring offense during the regular season, averaging 28.1 points per game. Meanwhile, the Niners had the NFC’s stingiest defense, yielding just 16.3 points per contest.
The top-seeded Eagles earned a bye in the wild card round and are coming off a 38-7 shellacking of the New York Giants in last week’s divisional playoff. The Niners defeated the Seattle Seahawks 41-23 in the wild card round and edged the Dallas Cowboys 19-12 in their divisional playoff game.
According to Tipico Sportsbook, the Eagles are 2.5-point favorites with the over/under at 45 points.
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Backup QB Josh Johnson takes over for 49ers
The first-quarter hit on quarterback Brock Purdy that resulted in a lost fumble may have been even more costly to the 49ers.
When Purdy was hit on the arm by Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick, he suffered an apparent elbow injury, according to a report on the Fox Sports broadcast.
Journeyman quarterback Josh Johnson, who is playing for his seventh NFL team, entered the game for Purdy.
— Steve Gardner
Upon further review? Refs under microscope early
The Eagles recorded the first turnover of the game when Niners quarterback Brock Purdy was hit as he was looking to pass midway through the first quarter.
Purdy was hit on the wrist by Philadelphia’s Haason Reddick, and even though the pass was called incomplete on the field, it was changed on replay review to a fumble and recovered by Linval Joseph at the Eagles 44.
That play came after a non-review on the Eagles first drive led to their opening touchdown.
A stellar catch by Eagles receiver Devonta Smith may not have been a catch after all.
Replays showed Smith, who hauled in a 29-yard pass on 4th and 3, did not secure the football, which hit the field after the play.
The 49ers did not challenge the play. The Eagles scored two plays later.
— Safid Deen and Steve Gardner
First quarter: Eagles 7, 49ers 0
Miles Sanders scampered untouched up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown run to give Philadelphia a 7-0 lead on the game’s opening drive.
The Eagles drove 66 yards in 11 plays to draw first blood in the game, keyed by a fantastic 29-yard catch by DeVonta Smith on 4th and 3 from Niners’ 35 — a catch that instant replay likely would have overturned because the ball hit the ground before Smith completed the catch.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts completed 5-of-7 passes for 54 yards on the drive.
Niners LB Fred Warner goes down on first series
The 49ers appeared to avoid a major injury during the first quarter.
Star linebacker Fred Warner, one of the team’s best players, sustained an injury on the first play of the game.
Warner popped up and jogged off the field into the medical tent on the sidelines after the play.
Several plays later, Warner returned to action on the field.
— Safid Deen
Keys to victory for Niners, Eagles
On paper, they are two of the most complete teams in the NFL. The talent oozes off the page. Both teams are stacked with game-breaker weapons. Their strengths are in the trenches.
What are the keys to today’s game? Chris Bumbaca offers up three (plus a bonus one) in his in-depth analysis:
- How will Brock Purdy, 49ers handle Eagles pass rush?
- Defending Jalen Hurts, Eagles rushing attack
- Could A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith be in for big games?
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS? For Niners and Eagles, you bet it does
Super Bowl’s first rookie quarterback?
That could be the Niners’ Brock Purdy.
To get there, he’ll need to take down the top-seeded Eagles on the road as he prepares to become just the fifth rookie QB to start a conference championship game, joining Shaun King, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez – who all lost.
It’s not unheard of for a quarterback to win a ring in his second season, something Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Big Ben and Russell Wilson managed. But Purdy is looking to explore uncharted territory, and that would begin with a victory at Lincoln Financial Field against what’s going to be the best team he’s ever faced.
– Nate Davis
NFC title game X-factors
Quarterback is arguably the most important position in all of sports. But there are 10 other players on the field.
USA TODAY Sports’ Chris Bumbaca looks at a player from each team who could play a pivotal role in his team’s pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy.
For the Eagles: Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who tied for the league lead with six interceptions, despite missing time with a lacerated kidney. He’ll have to match up with 49ers WRs Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk when they line up in the slot.
For the 49ers: Linebacker Fred Warner, the first-team All-Pro who will have to excel against the run and the pass for the 49ers to slow down one of the league’s top offenses.
This isn’t the first Jalen Hurts-Brock Purdy matchup
I recall that Big 12 Conference showdown in 2019, Purdy and company rallying Iowa State from a 42-21 deficit at Oklahoma heading into the fourth quarter. Heck, had it not been for a questionable non-call in the end zone on a two-point conversion pass to La’Michael Pettway, the Cyclones might have won. Instead it was a 42-41 loss in a game Cyclone fans won’t soon forget.
Three of Purdy’s five touchdown passes came in that 20-point fourth quarter, a period in which he completed 5-of-9 passes for 90 yards and rushed seven times for 36 more.
Purdy finished with 337 total yards and six touchdowns (five passing, one rushing) and no interceptions in a heroic losing effort. Hurts had 341 yards and five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) and an interception.
Epic? I’d say yes.
– Randy Peterson, Des Moines Register
Eagles look to exploit home field advantage
PHILADELPHIA − It’s not so much that the Eagles’ fans are loud and boisterous.
They are all that, and more.
But the atmosphere could resemble a nonstop party when 70,000 fans pack Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday to watch the Eagles play in the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl.
And while the fans have nothing to do with the success and precision of Jalen Hurts’ passes, or his ability to elude 49ers tacklers, they could have plenty to do with unnerving the 49ers, especially their 23-year-old rookie quarterback Brock Purdy.
– Martin Frank, Delaware News Journal
Niners may lean more on McCaffrey with Mitchell inactive
Both teams have announced their inactives for the NFC title game and perhaps the biggest name on the list is San Francisco running back Elijah Mitchell, who will miss the game with a groin injury.
Mitchell and starting running back Christian McCaffrey were held out of drills on Wednesday and Thursday, but unlike McCaffrey, Mitchell was unable to make it on the field on Friday. USA TODAY’s Nate Davis reports McCaffrey (calf) seems to be moving well in pregame warmups.
With Mitchell out, McCaffrey could see an even heavier workload against the Eagles. Meanwhile, wide reciever Deebo Samuel (ankle), along with backup RB Jordan Mason, might see additional action in the backfield with rookie RB Tyrion Davis-Price also inactive.
— Steve Gardner
Previewing the NFC championship game
Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts, 24, and San Francisco’s Brock Purdy, 23, will be the youngest quarterbacks, in terms of combined age, to start in the championship round. While their playing styles are different, their teams have much in common.
Hurts and Purdy are both highly mobile, though Purdy uses his legs to extend plays from the pocket – which Hurts can obviously do, though he also set sail for 760 yards and 13 TDs on the ground.
The backfields are headlined by San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey and Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders but expect plenty of others to get carries. The Eagles’ A.J. Brown and Niners’ Deebo Samuel are listed as wide receivers but are hybrids who are among the most punishing runners in the league with the ball in their hands, Samuel a significant component of the 49ers’ run game.
WR2s Brandon Aiyuk (49ers) and DeVonta Smith (Eagles) and TEs Dallas Goedert (Eagles) and George Kittle (49ers) can all feast in their own rights, but especially so if too much defensive attention is focused on Brown and Samuel.
The two teams combined to produce 14 Pro Bowlers and 12 All-Pros (first- or second-team) during the 2022 season. The success of each is largely rooted in the trenches. Eagles RT Lane Johnson, Eagles C Jason Kelce and 49ers LT Trent Williams are widely recognized as the premier players at their respective positions, the latter two on a Hall of Fame fast track.
But these clubs also roll deep on their defensive lines. The Niners feature league sack leader and likely NFL Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa. The Eagles’ 70 regular-season sacks nearly toppled the league record, but they were the first team to feature four players with at least 10 sacks apiece – and Haason Reddick, Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham each had a minimum of 11, Reddick’s 16 trailing only Bosa’s 18½ league-wide.
Behind both D-lines, an exceptional group of playmakers – the Niners’ linebacking corps arguably the NFL’s best, the Eagles’ featuring what’s probably the league’s top group of corners.
– Nate Davis
WINNING UGLY: Eagles show their dominance in the trenches
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