PHILADELPHIA -- As the San Francisco 49ers watched quarterbacks Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson head to the sideline with injuries Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, they couldn't help but feel like their hopes of a trip to Super Bowl LVII went with them. They also couldn't help but feel like they, too, had just taken a season-ending blow.
"We didn't really get to see all the 49er football that we wanted to put out there on tape," tight end George Kittle said. "But life just kind of punches you in the face sometimes."
The Niners lost Purdy to a right elbow injury on their sixth offensive snap. After he was originally considered questionable to return, he had no choice but to reenter in the third quarter when his replacement -- fourth-string signal-caller Johnson -- was ruled out with a concussion.
The Niners believe Purdy sprained his ulnar collateral ligament, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter, and he will undergo an MRI Monday. The hope is that the UCL is not ruptured and would require only a six-week recovery.
"My arm felt like it stretched out," Purdy said. "I felt really just like a lot of shocks all over from my elbow down to my wrist, front and back. Just pain really, all over."
Those injuries were the latest and final hits to a 49ers quarterback room that was plagued by various ailments for most of the season. San Francisco lost starter Trey Lance to a broken right ankle in Week 2 and veteran backup Jimmy Garoppolo to a broken left foot in Week 13.
That left the Niners leaning on Purdy, the final pick in the 2022 NFL draft, to lead them back to the Super Bowl. In his first seven starts, he looked more than capable of doing just that as the Niners won each of those games, including a pair of playoff contests. But Purdy never really got much of a chance to finish the job in Sunday's 31-7 loss to the Eagles.
Purdy sustained the injury with 7:03 left in the opening quarter. Facing second-and-6 at the 50, Purdy dropped back to throw, looking for wideout Brandon Aiyuk down the left side. With a clean pocket and time to throw, the Niners believed it was about to be a big play. Eagles pass-rusher Haason Reddick ruined those plans, racing past Niners tight end Tyler Kroft and hitting Purdy as he attempted to throw, jarring the ball loose.
It bounced off Purdy's elbow and flew forward to Philadelphia's 44, where Eagles defensive tackle Linval Joseph recovered. Following a Philadelphia challenge, Purdy went to the sideline and tried a couple of throws and immediately recognized something was wrong. He quickly told coach Kyle Shanahan that he was incapable of making any throws longer than 5 to 10 yards.
"He went and kept throwing and realized he couldn't, so there was really no discussion after that," Shanahan said. "He couldn't throw."
So, the Niners turned to Johnson, who was making his first playoff appearance since entering the league in 2009. When he completed a 9-yard pass to receiver Deebo Samuel, he became the third-oldest quarterback (36 years, 259 days) in the Super Bowl era at the time of his first career playoff pass attempt.
Johnson finished the first half but was out of the game early in the third quarter. With 12:36 left, Johnson threw down the right side for wideout Samuel but was hit by Eagles tackle Ndamukong Suh as the ball fell incomplete. Johnson got back up and appeared ready to keep going, but the official called for a concussion check, and Johnson headed to the blue medical tent. He then went to the locker room to be evaluated further.
San Francisco's hopes of a comeback essentially died as Johnson departed with the team down two touchdowns and having to go back to Purdy, who was mostly unable to throw.
"How does it feel to lose the NFC Championship Game because I don't have a quarterback?" Kittle said. "Pretty s---ty, to be honest."
Upon returning, Purdy threw a short screen pass to running back Christian McCaffrey for a gain of 3. He attempted only one more pass, a short dump-off to Kittle for a gain of 1. Purdy finished 4-of-4 for 23 yards with an average of 1.5 air yards per attempt. That's the lowest average by a starting quarterback in a playoff game since the stat was first tracked in 2006 and the second lowest by a starting quarterback this season.
According to Shanahan, the Niners stuck with Purdy despite his inability to throw because they could at least stay in their normal run game. They also planned to work McCaffrey in as a Wildcat quarterback. That never happened because the Eagles, knowing Purdy couldn't throw, began putting six defenders on the defensive line and loading the box to stop the run.
"It's unfortunate that it happened the way it did today because I feel like all those guys deserve a good shot," McCaffrey said. "We all do. But again, this is a tough game and sometimes it doesn't go your way."
The Niners' frustrations boiled over with about four minutes left. With the Eagles leading 31-7 and the Niners trying desperately to get back in the game, a shoving match between the teams broke out after McCaffrey's 6-yard run with 4:19 to go in the final quarter. San Francisco left tackle Trent Williams pulled Eagles safety K'Von Wallace out of a scrum and slammed him to the ground. More shoving followed and both benches emptied.
After a few minutes to sort things out, officials ejected Williams and Wallace.
For Purdy and the Niners, it was a frustrating end to a wild ride that had them in their third NFC Championship Game in four years. And they couldn't help but feel like they didn't get to take their best shot at an Eagles team they genuinely believed they could beat.
"Coming into an environment like this locked in ready to roll and then an injury happens and then the way the game goes just totally shifts in a different direction," Purdy said. "It's just all these emotions, and again, I come back to I want it for these guys, the older guys more than anybody. As a rookie, you can say you've got your whole career, but these guys have told me it's rare to get here. So, it's hard. It's not easy."