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Sports >  NFL

Eagles are bound for the Super Bowl after 31-7 rout of depleted 49ers

Jan. 29, 2023 Updated Sun., Jan. 29, 2023 at 8:53 p.m.

Eagles running back Miles Sanders scores a touchdown against San Francisco during the NFC Championship game on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.  (Tribune News Service)
Eagles running back Miles Sanders scores a touchdown against San Francisco during the NFC Championship game on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. (Tribune News Service)
By Mark Maske Washington Post

PHILADELPHIA – Their reboot is triumphantly complete. The Philadelphia Eagles are headed back to the Super Bowl, five years after they won it in memorable fashion with a different coach and a different quarterback.

The Eagles were the NFL’s top team for most of the season. They made an argument that they retain that status and brushed aside their most formidable challenger for conference supremacy by beating the luckless, quarterback-deprived San Francisco 49ers, 31-7, in the NFC Championship Game here Sunday before a raucous crowd at Lincoln Financial Field.

In Super Bowl LVII in two weeks in Glendale, Ariz., the Eagles will face the winner of the AFC Championship Game later Sunday between the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals.

The top-seeded Eagles amassed four rushing touchdowns and ended the season of the second-seeded 49ers, halting their winning streak at 12 games. The storybook rookie season of 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy ended in injury-plagued fashion.

Purdy exited the game when he suffered an elbow injury on the Niners’ opening offensive possession. That left the 49ers trying to win the game with journeyman Josh Johnson at quarterback. Purdy reentered the game by necessity in the third quarter only after Johnson left the field to be evaluated for a possible concussion. His head struck the turf after he absorbed a hit and fell backward. Johnson later was diagnosed with a concussion, the 49ers announced.

Purdy already was the third different starter of the season for the resilient but star-crossed Niners. He could do little when he returned to the field. Tailback Christian McCaffrey even got a late-game try at quarterback.

An on-field scuffle marred the game late in the fourth quarter. The officials ordered both teams to their sidelines temporarily and ejected 49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams and Eagles safety K’Von Wallace.

The Eagles won the Super Bowl in the 2017 season with Doug Pederson as their coach and Nick Foles filling in for an injured Carson Wentz at quarterback. That team’s victory over the New England Patriots in the famed “Philly Special” game is commemorated by a statue here depicting Pederson and Foles consulting on their gadget play for the ages.

The Eagles pressed the reset button when owner Jeffrey Lurie parted with Pederson following the 2020 season, saying Pederson did not deserve to be dismissed, but the two had different visions for the path forward. The Eagles hired Nick Sirianni as their coach and went with Jalen Hurts, drafted as Wentz’s understudy, as their quarterback. General Manager Howie Roseman remade the roster after Lurie advocated for a new and younger core group of players. The Eagles have been rewarded handsomely.

Hurts became a league MVP candidate, and the Eagles won 13 of their first 14 games this season. They slumped late in the regular season, as Hurts missed two games with a sprained right shoulder, and needed three tries to clinch the No. 1 seed. But, after a first-round playoff bye, they were back to their in a divisional-round triumph over the New York Giants. And they were too good Sunday for the depleted Niners.

The 49ers, playing in their third NFC Championship Game in four seasons, failed in their bid to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2019 season. They lost for the first time since Oct. 23. Purdy, in his injury-interrupted appearance, lost for the first time in his eight starts since injuries to Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo forced him into the lineup. No rookie quarterback ever has won a conference championship game, and Purdy’s defeat keeps that trend intact.

Now the Niners enter an offseason in which they will have to sort out their quarterback situation. Purdy went from being the final player chosen in last year’s NFL draft to resembling, potentially, a star in the making. Lance will return from the ankle injury that cut short his second NFL season. Garoppolo is eligible for free agency and probably will move on. There has been talk of the 49ers being a possible landing spot for Tom Brady in free agency.

Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, meanwhile, is poised to leave for a head coaching opportunity elsewhere. He reportedly is a top candidate for the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos. He could be leaning toward the Texans, a team for which he formerly played. Ryans oversaw the NFL’s top-ranked defense this season with the 49ers.

Purdy took warm-up throws along the sideline several times after exiting the game but didn’t re-enter until circumstances left the 49ers with no other choice. He was injured when he was hit while delivering a pass. The officials on the field originally ruled the play an incomplete pass. But the Eagles used an instant replay challenge to reverse that ruling to a fumble that they recovered.

The Eagles had three first-half rushing touchdowns, two of them by tailback Miles Sanders, to build a 21-7 lead at the intermission. They converted on a fourth-and-three attempt on the game’s opening drive with an acrobatic catch by wide receiver DeVonta Smith along the sideline for a 29-yard gain. It appeared on a television replay that the ball hit the turf and Smith actually did not make the catch. But the 49ers, with the Eagles rushing to line up for their next play, failed to challenge. That set up Sanders’s first touchdown run.

The 49ers kept the Eagles from capitalizing on Purdy’s fumble on the play on which he was injured. They tied the game on a spectacular second-quarter touchdown run by McCaffrey. But the Eagles used a 14-play drive to reach the end zone via Sanders’s second touchdown run. Johnson dropped the ball on a shotgun snap for a fumble, and the Eagles capitalized on the turnover for a rushing touchdown by reserve running back Boston Scott 16 seconds before halftime.

The Eagles got a fourth rushing touchdown and stretched the lead to 28-7 when Hurts reached the end zone on a quarterback sneak in the final minute of the third quarter. The celebration began in the stands for Eagles fans, and it was clear the 49ers could do next to nothing on offense with Purdy so limited.

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