Eagles Return to the Super Bowl as the 49ers Break Down
PHILADELPHIA — Fireworks blasted atop Lincoln Financial Field, and Eagles players and coaches careened toward the end zone in ecstatic celebration as running back Boston Scott trotted untouched for a 10-yard rushing touchdown just before halftime.
There were still 30 minutes left to play on Sunday, but with a two-possession lead and the N.F.L.’s best pass rush facing a fourth-string quarterback, the touchdown seemed like an exclamation point. The Eagles held the lead to beat the San Francisco 49ers, 31-7, to win the N.F.C. championship, earning a trip to Glendale, Ariz., for the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl appearance.
The Eagles have been one of the most complete teams in the league this season, and they showed that again on Sunday. With the win, they will face either Kansas City or Cincinnati in their first Super Bowl since they won it all in the 2017 season.
The Eagles’ defense, which during the regular season accumulated the most sacks (70) and allowed the fewest passing yards per game (179.8) in the league, ended a Cinderella-like run for 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy. After the Eagles scored on their opening possession, linebacker Haason Reddick sacked Purdy with about seven minutes remaining in the first quarter, causing a fumble. Purdy injured his right, throwing elbow on the play, and he sat out for the remainder of the first half.
The 49ers managed one scoring drive in the second quarter, which ended in a 23-yard rushing touchdown by running back Christian McCaffrey, but otherwise their offense sputtered behind Purdy’s backup, Josh Johnson. Johnson left the game early in the second half with a concussion, and Purdy returned, but he was clearly compromised. Purdy finished the game with four pass attempts. He completed them all for 23 yards.
It was a jarring end to the successful run Purdy had orchestrated since December, when he was inserted into the lineup after injuries to the first two quarterbacks on the 49ers’ depth chart, Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo. Purdy, the final pick in the 2022 N.F.L. draft, won seven games as a starter, playing efficiently while throwing for 1,374 yards, 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions in the regular season.
He became just the fifth rookie quarterback to start in a conference championship game, aided by stout coaching and a superb roster. He excelled partly because of the weapons around him — receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk; tight end George Kittle; and the versatile running back McCaffrey, for whom General Manager John Lynch traded in October — and Coach Kyle Shanahan’s scheme of running effectively and allowing passing targets to gain yards after the catch.
But without Purdy, the 49ers’ offense struggled to find a rhythm behind Johnson, an eighth-season pro who has played for seven teams. Johnson, before he exited, completed just 7 of 13 passes for 74 yards and also fumbled on a mishandled snap, which the Eagles recovered. Shanahan’s luck in seamlessly transitioning through quarterbacks was finally over.
Reddick terrorized both San Francisco quarterbacks — he finished with three tackles and two sacks — and served as an exemplar of the key free-agency signings and trades orchestrated by General Manager Howie Roseman to bring the Eagles back to relevancy.
Reddick signed with the Eagles before the season, joining the team with cornerback James Bradberry, who was released by the Giants last May, and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, for whom Roseman traded in August. Those three led a defense that harassed the 49ers and limited them to only 164 total yards of offense. That put insurmountable pressure on the 49ers’ defense, which had finished the regular season as the league’s top-ranked unit.
The Eagles’ offense seemed in sync, and it capitalized on inopportune penalties from the 49ers and employed a balanced approach, as it had done all year. Jalen Hurts, the third-year quarterback who blossomed in his second full season as a starter, finished with only 121 passing yards, but he extended plays with his legs, rushing for 39 yards and a touchdown. He also threaded the ball into tight windows, as he did on a pass that receiver DeVonta Smith caught with one hand in the fourth quarter.
A stable of Eagles running backs — Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell and Scott — combined for 111 rushing yards and three touchdowns against a 49ers defense that had allowed just 77.7 rushing yards per game in the regular season, the second fewest in the league.
The unraveling for the 49ers showed in their players’ actions as well as the stat sheet: Linebacker Dre Greenlaw was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for punching the ball still in the hand of a running back after a play in the fourth quarter, and safety Talanoa Hufanga was flagged for hitting Hurts late out of bounds. San Francisco offensive lineman Trent Williams and Philadelphia safety K’Von Wallace were ejected after sparking a fourth-quarter brawl in which both benches cleared.
The Eagles had foundered in mediocrity after their Super Bowl win, exiting early in the playoffs in the 2018, 2019 and 2021 seasons; in 2020, they won only four games. They fired their coach, Doug Pederson, after that 2020 season and traded a former first-round pick, quarterback Carson Wentz, in a clear move to rebuild.
Coach Nick Sirianni and Hurts made the playoffs in their first year together, in 2021, but Hurts entered this season with questions about whether he could be the franchise’s cornerstone. He made a compelling argument, throwing for 3,701 yards and 22 touchdowns in the regular season while rushing for 760 yards and 13 scores despite missing two games with a shoulder injury. He also benefited from Roseman’s trade in April for receiver A.J. Brown, who caught 11 touchdown passes and posted 1,496 receiving yards. The Eagles burst to an 8-0 start and finished 14-3, sharing the best record in the league with Kansas City.
Roseman’s roster construction, along with Hurts’s growth, has propelled the Eagles to the Super Bowl after a rapid rebuild. The celebration became official after the two-minute warning, when the players began dancing and the crowd sang in unison to “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty. Green confetti fell, followed by the blaring of the rapper Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares,” which has become an anthem for the city of Philadelphia.