The San Francisco 49ers’ Cursed Season Ended in the NFC Title Game

Quarterback injuries have defined the San Francisco 49ers' season, and that trend continued in the NFC Championship Game.

There are two ways to view the San Francisco 49ers‘ 2022 campaign. If you’re a glass-half-full type of person, it’s possible to look at this year as a storybook season in the Bay Area. Seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy became the only Mr. Irrelevant in NFL history to complete a pass, let alone lead his team to the playoffs.

But Purdy was only under center for the 49ers because they had already lost their top two quarterbacks — Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo — earlier this season. Injuries cursed San Francisco at the most important position in sports, and they didn’t stop in the Niners’ NFC Championship Game loss to the Eagles.

The San Francisco 49ers Were the Team of Destiny — Until They Weren’t

Philadelphia had already taken an early first-quarter lead when Purdy’s right arm was hit by edge rusher Haason Reddick, leading to an Eagles fumble recovery. Purdy left the game and spent time with the 49ers’ medical staff, and San Francisco listed him as questionable to return with an elbow injury.

Josh Johnson, a 36-year-old veteran who’s spent time with an NFL-record 14 teams, took over at quarterback. If Kyle Shanahan had been able to advance to the Super Bowl while working with his fourth-string signal-caller, Canton might have started crafting his Hall of Fame bust as early as this evening.

Instead, injuries struck again. With the 49ers trailing 21-7 in the third quarter, Johnson banged his head on the turf and exited the field with a concussion. San Francisco could have turned to Christian McCaffrey or Kyle Juszczyk as their emergency quarterback, but they instead turned back to Purdy.

However, it quickly became obvious that Purdy couldn’t throw the ball. Over the next two drives, Purdy’s only pass was a short screen to McCaffrey. Every other play was a handoff.

Meanwhile, the Eagles managed a 15-play, 91-yard scoring drive to make it 28-7. Coming back from that type of deficit is nearly impossible. Mounting a resurgence with a quarterback who can’t put the ball in the air is out of the question.

MORE: San Francisco 49ers Offseason Preview 2023

The 49ers are going home, and there’s no one to blame for their loss. No team in the NFL is prepared to go to war with their fourth-string quarterback, and the fact that Shanahan got San Francisco this far with Purdy calling the shots is a testament to his prowess as a play-caller.

The 49ers have dealt with devastating losses before. In last year’s NFC Championship Game, safety Jaquiski Tartt dropped an easy interception that could have led San Francisco to a victory over the Los Angeles Rams. In Super Bowl 54, the 49ers held a 10-point fourth-quarter lead over the Kansas City Chiefs before Patrick Mahomes stormed back with three consecutive touchdowns.

In those situations, San Francisco could at least look inward and assess what went wrong. The 49ers certainly made mistakes in today’s game, but they really just got unlucky.

The 49ers Will Face Plenty of Offseason Questions

San Francisco has been to the NFC Championship Game in three of the last four seasons, and they will bring back most of an extremely talented roster. Still, they will need to address a few crucial obstacles as the offseason gets underway.

First, the 49ers will have to make a decision at quarterback. Lance should be healthy for the start of the season, and the former first-round pick has two years and a fifth-year option remaining on his rookie contract. Will San Francisco turn back to him despite his lack of NFL production or try to trade him away to another QB-needy team?

Shanahan and Co.’s call on Lance will depend on how they feel about Purdy’s long-term outlook. The Iowa State product was efficient inside San Francisco’s scheme and routinely got the ball into the hands of the club’s best playmakers.

Then there’s Garoppolo, who will be a free agent and should attract interest on the open market. It seems unlikely he’ll be back with the 49ers, but it was improbable that he’d return this past season, too.

MORE: Will the 49ers Re-Sign Jimmy Garoppolo?

Elsewhere, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans appears set to land a head-coaching job this offseason, depriving the 49ers of their brightest defensive mind.

Shanahan has dealt with brain drain before — he lost most of his offensive staff before this season saw DC Robert Saleh depart for the New York Jets after the 2020 campaign. Can San Francisco’s defense remain an elite unit with a new voice leading the room?

The NFC title game marked a deflating conclusion to the 49ers’ season, but their contention window is far from over. No matter who is at quarterback or coordinating the defense, San Francisco will be in the mix as long as they have Shanahan and a roster that includes McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, and Fred Warner.

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Related Articles