For the second time in 5 years, the Eagles will be hosting the NFC Championship game. From the moment Howie Roseman started signing free agents and making trades, the expectation has been for this team to make a deep playoff run. After looking shaky for the final month of the season, the Eagles took advantage of the bye week and regained their championship-level form against the New York Giants in the Divisional Round.
Next up will be a much more formidable foe in the San Francisco 49ers, who will be resting their Super Bowl hopes on the shoulders of a rookie quarterback and an elite defense. These have been the two best teams in the NFC this year and it seems this matchup was unavoidable.
While these are 2 of the more storied franchises in the NFL, there are not a lot of important matchups between them throughout history. This is only the second time they’ve met in the postseason; the first time was a pretty uneventful 14-0 49ers win in the 1996 Wildcard. These two have just never really been good at the same time. However, there are still some memorable games between them.
The last time the Eagles made it this far in the postseason, Kyle Shanahan was in his first season as the 49ers’ head coach. Before the game on Sunday, I wanted to look back at the first time Shanahan traveled to Philadelphia.
October 29, 2017
Flying in from across the country was a 49ers squad amid a deep rebuild. Shanahan had yet to record his first coaching win, as the hapless Niners sat at 0-7. Ever since Jim Harbaugh left the team in 2015, they have been spiraling out of control toward the bottom of the league. After 2 straight one-and-done coaches in Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, the 49ers thought they hired the next genius offensive coach that could save your team.
So far, the roster around Shanahan is so terrible, that you can’t even tell if he’s a good coach or not. Brian Hoyer was the team’s quarterback to start the season but was benched in place of rookie C.J. Beathard after just 5 games.
The Eagles are currently the hottest team in the NFL, sitting a 6-1 and riding a 5-game winning streak. Carson Wentz has played like an MVP candidate and the ground game has been just as effective, behind a committee of Darren Sproles, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement. The defense, especially the defensive line, has been ferocious all season, hunting down and sacking opposing quarterbacks.
They are 2 well-balanced units that play complementary football that leads to wins. The second-year head coach Doug Pederson is proving that he is a legitimately good hire after much public doubt for the first year. The Eagles are 13-point favorites at home, so most fans and players expected a win.
The Eagles won the coin toss and elected to kick off to start the 1 pm game on defense. In just his second career start, C.J. Beathard was asked to go up against the best pass rush in the NFL. He started the game nicely, hitting Brent Celek’s younger brother Garrett for a 24-yard completion on the second play of the game. This would prove to be their best passing play of the day, however.
Good plays by Malcolm Jenkins and Jalen Mills forced San Fran to punt the ball on their opening possession. The Eagles started the game with 3 straight LeGarrette Blount runs and a first down. Wentz hit Agholor on back-to-back passes but the drive stalled out after a Lane Johnson false start. The 49ers couldn’t get a first down and punted the ball back to Philly.
The Eagles looked to get back on track on their next drive, as the offense used an efficient mix of running and passing to march down the field. Wentz spread the ball around to 4 different receivers but the Eagles had to settle for a 40-yard field goal. They scored the game’s first points and took the lead, 3-0. San Francisco got the ball again but punted after just 45 seconds, giving Philly a chance to extend the lead.
Instead of taking off, the Eagles’ offense looked like it was stuck on the ground, as they failed to get a first down on their next 3 possessions. Not even a Rodney McLeod interception could ignite the team. It’s a good thing the 49ers’ offense is even more lifeless than the Eagles, they’ve failed to score a single point yet.
With just under 5 minutes remaining in the half, Pederson inspired the offense to pick it up with some choice words on the sideline. It worked as the Eagles had their best drive of the game so far. After getting the ball in good field position at their own 44-yard line, Wentz and company quickly drove down the field. Mack Hollins hauled in 2 passes for 30 yards, Torrey Smith drew a 24-yard pass interference penalty and Wentz found a wide-open Ertz in the back of the end zone.
It took almost a whole half against the worst team in the league but the Eagles finally scored a touchdown to calm the nerves of all fans who complained of the game being too close. The good feelings wouldn’t last long though as Jake Elliott missed the extra point.
With under two minutes left the 49ers got the ball back to try and make it a one-score again. Brandon Graham came flying across the line to sack Beathard, then 2 plays later, Jalen Mills intercepted a deep pass intended for Pierre Garcon. Mills weaved his way from sideline to sideline and scored the pick-six to bring life to the Linc once again!
Pederson didn’t trust Elliot, who brought the offense out to go for 2. Wentz found Alshon Jeffrey to make the game 17-0. After being tightly contested for most of the first 2 quarters, the Eagles were finally able to break away late in the half.
The second half of the game did not start with the same excitement that the first half ended with. Both offenses were in neutral after 4 straight punts to start the frame. Halfway through, the Eagles got the ball near midfield and fought for enough yards to set Elliot up for a 51-yard field goal, that he made look easy in the rain.
On the Eagles’ next possession on 3rd and 14, Wentz underthrew Mack Hollins and was intercepted by Akhello Witherspoon. This immediately gave San Francisco their best field position of the day, starting their drive at the Eagles 21 yard line. 2 plays later, Beathard shoveled the ball to Matt Breida who scrambled up the middle and into the endzone for the 49ers’ first points of the day. Robbie Gould made his extra point, making the score 20-7.
The Eagles would come back out on offense and retake any momentum the 49ers thought they had. Rookie running back Corey Clement rushed for 22 yards and brought the ball near midfield. On the next play, Wentz went deep down the right sideline to Jeffrey, who mossed Witherspoon, and broke 2 tackles down the sideline to score a 53-yard touchdown. That was the exclamation point that put the Eagles comfortably ahead for the rest of the game, 27-7.
The 49ers were able to move the ball to start the 4th quarter thanks to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s prevent defense. Beathard used short passes to Breida and a young George Kittle to get the offense down to the Philadelphia 9. However, the defense didn’t break and forced a field goal on 4th down, which was blocked by rookie Derek Barnett!
The Eagles used both their tight ends to move the ball against the tired San Francisco defense. Ertz and Celek combined for 21 yards and Blount finished the drive out with back-to-back 10-yard runs and a touchdown.
The Eagles had spent the second half asserting their dominance over a much worse team and were officially blowing out the 49ers, 33-7. Robbie Gould hit a garbage time field goal to make the score 33-10 but it didn’t matter, the beatdown was already over.
Thanks to a dominant defensive effort led by McLeod, Graham, and Cox, and timely offense from Wentz, Ertz, Blount, and Jeffrey, the Eagles were able to dismantle one of the worst teams in the league and continue to ride team chemistry to the Super Bowl.
January 28, 2023
5 seasons later, the Eagles and 49ers will meet in Philadelphia again but with much more on the line. Both teams are in different spots than they were in 2017, but there are still remnants of that game that will matter on Sunday. The day after the 49ers lost, they traded for Jimmy Garappolo, in an attempt to find a franchise quarterback. Jimmy G and the 49ers have had a very complicated relationship, but San Fran is not where they are today without him.
Shanahan has turned them around into a winning culture and George Kittle has continued to grow into a top tight end. Some of Philadelphia’s best players like Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, Jason Kelce, and Brandon Graham were a part of this game and no doubt want to build on the legacy they built that season.
I don’t think the playoff game is going to be a blowout like this, I do expect the Eagles to win. There is one problem the 49ers still have from that 2017 team, and it’s the lack of a franchise quarterback. Garoppolo, Trey Lance, and now Brock Purdy have all tried to win the 49ers a championship, but I don’t think any of them are good enough to win it all. The Eagles and 49ers rosters are very even, but Jalen Hurts is the x-factor that puts Philadelphia above.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu