49ers’ QB injury woes hit rock bottom at worst possible time

49ers’ QB injury woes hit rock bottom at worst possible time

In a season defined by quarterback injuries and the 49ers somehow overcoming them, the only thing they hadn’t faced was two quarterback injuries in one game.

But that is exactly what happened Sunday in the NFC Championship game — and it ended the 49ers’ season.

Already starting third-string quarterback Brock Purdy, the 49ers ended up going to the fourth-stringer Josh Johnson — and, for a play, their fifth-string passer in Christian McCaffrey.

It forced head coach Kyle Shanahan to turn his otherwise lethal and complex offense into a run-only attack against a stout Eagles defense, which was able to shut the 49ers down in a 31-7 blowout.

“I’ve been a part of [games] with no linemen, you know, that sort of thing, but you lose a quarterback, it’s pretty tough to play football,” 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “And that’s what happened today.”

George Kittle added, “Losing your starting quarterback who’s a third-string rookie to your fourth-string quarterback who was doing everything he could, gets hurt right away in the third quarter [and] you can only run the ball, it’s tough.”

Purdy injured his right elbow on the second drive of the game when he was hit by Eagles pass rusher Hassan Reddick from his blind side. Insult was added to injury when the play, which was initially ruled an incomplete pass, was later deemed a fumble after a successful challenge by the Eagles.

“My arm just felt like it stretched out, just felt like a lot of just shocks all over from my elbow down to my wrist, front and back,” Purdy said. “Just pain, really, all over.”

Johnson took over and went 7-of-13 before he slammed his head on the turf when he was hit by Eagles defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh early in the third quarter. Johnson exited the game, eventually ruled out after a concussion evaluation, and a hampered Purdy came back in, but only after telling Shanahan he “can’t throw it deep.”

“I couldn’t throw anything probably over 10 yards, five yards,” Purdy said. “So that’s why we just had some screens, that was really our only option when I went back in.”

Purdy only threw two more passes after taking back over, throwing short screen passes to McCaffrey and Kittle. He ended the day 4-for-4 passing for 23 yards.

The 49ers even went to McCaffrey for one designed throw in the fourth quarter, a double-reverse flea flicker that ended up with McCaffrey throwing the ball away deep into the secondary. While the initial scramble after Johnson’s injury had 49ers staffers looking for a radio to insert into McCaffrey’s helmet, the Niners instead chose to use Purdy as a non-throwing facilitator — no matter what the Philly defense looked like.

“As soon as Purdy came back in, they put six guys on the line of scrimmage, they loaded the box and saw we can’t do any play actions or anything off it, so we just kind of had to run into it,” Kittle said.

The 49ers had already lost their initial starter Trey Lance in the second game of the season, as the second-year quarterback tore his ACL on a rushing play. Second-stringer Jimmy Garoppolo filled in for Lance beginning in Week 2 and proceeded to start the next 10 games. But he, too, went down with a foot fracture that has kept him out for the last six weeks, creating the lane for Purdy to step in and shine.

Given that attrition, it’s remarkable that the 49ers were even one step away from the Super Bowl at all. They’re one of only six teams this season to play four quarterbacks. The other five teams all finished with losing records: Bears (3-14), Cardinals (4-13), Jets (7-10), Panthers (7-10) and Rams (5-12).

It would be one thing if this truly was just a one-year fluke. But the reality is that Shanahan’s entire tenure in Santa Clara has been defined by injuries to the quarterback position.

In the six seasons Shanahan has been the 49ers’ head coach, only once has the starter entering the season actually started each game: Garoppolo in 2019, when they made the Super Bowl. The 49ers have only had three seasons in which a quarterback even reached double-digit starts between the regular season and playoffs (Garoppolo’s 19 combined in 2019, 18 in 2021 and 10 this season after Lance’s injury).


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