PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The late-game meltdowns stick in San Francisco.
Take the Super Bowl against Kansas City following the 2019 season. The 49ers became the third team in Super Bowl history to cough up a 10-point lead in the second half and lost to the Chiefs. Or last season’s NFC title game, when a 17-7 lead unraveled because of a dropped interception, a conservative fourth-down call and an interception on the final drive. Winner, Rams.
Another blown opportunity at a championship that's hard to forget.
“As you go back to last year, we were a couple of plays away from making it to the Super Bowl again,” wide receiver Deebo Samuel said. “What’s it really going to take for us to get there? We just have to minimize the mistakes and everybody has to be on their assignments."
That’s a pretty heady task for any team, much less one headed into Philadelphia, where the cold, an MVP finalist and the top-seeded team in the NFC await. It’s going to get crazy loud — or is it crazy and loud? — at Lincoln Financial Field.
The 49ers say they’re ready. They have won 12 straight games, including seven in a row since rookie Brock Purdy, a seventh-round draft pick, took over at quarterback after Jimmy Garoppolo was injured.
The second-seeded 49ers have been on the brink of adding a sixth Super Bowl for years, and their appearance Sunday in the NFC championship game is their third in four seasons. The Eagles may not have been a preseason favorite to get here, but a series of bold moves — notably the acquisitions of wide receiver A.J. Brown, linebacker Haason Reddick, cornerback James Bradberry and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson — have turned them into a team with a Super Bowl-or-bust outlook.
Want near perfection? The Eagles know something about that in Pro Bowl QB Jalen Hurts’ starts, with a 14-1 record in the regular season and last week’s playoff victory against the New York Giants. Hurts is playing through the lingering effects of a sprained right shoulder that cost him two games. He is putting in overtime ahead of his biggest test of the season against the 49ers’ No. 1-ranked defense.
“It’s in his DNA to be here at all times working on his craft,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “Whether that’s in the weight room, whether that’s in the training room, whether that’s in the film room, this guy is obsessed with getting better.”
Hurts had some doubters that he was the real-deal franchise QB headed into training camp. He wiped out any concerns pretty much after the opening-week win against Detroit and kept piling up big numbers and wins to the point where he was an NFL MVP finalist.
All that’s keeping Hurts from a Super Bowl, the Eagles' second in six seasons, is the last pick of the draft.
Maybe it’s more than just Purdy’s play — he's had a meteoric rise this season from “ Mr. Irrelevant ” to undefeated rookie QB in the NFC title game — that helps the 49ers. He has no memory of the Super Bowl collapse. He played no role in the debacle against the Rams.
Purdy just knows how to win.
“He has a natural ability to play the position and that’s why he’s fun to coach because when he does make mistakes and do things, he can see it, he can know why, we can see it and we can all understand it,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.
He gives them a chance, one reason the oddsmakers list the 49ers as just 2 1/2-point underdogs, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Purdy hasn’t had much experience playing in a hostile environment during his brief NFL career with only two road starts. The first one at notoriously loud Seattle should have provided a good test for what Purdy will face Sunday in Philadelphia. Purdy got experience that week using the silent count, which Shanahan told him at the time would be beneficial in the future.
“He did say it was good preparation for what we might have to play in terms of the playoffs, going on the road for road games and obviously Philadelphia,” Purdy said. “In these kind of games, it’s all about communication. How can you operate smoothly, get in and out of the huddle, get the play off the right way, make sure everyone is on the same page. So that’s definitely a big emphasis this week.”
The 49ers' aggressive defense hasn’t had many chances against mobile quarterbacks this season, with only six teams facing fewer run attempts by QBs than the 50 against San Francisco. That figures to change against Hurts and the Eagles, who use designed quarterback runs and scrambles as a big part of their offense. Hurts rushed for 760 yards and 13 TDs this season.
“Any time you’re facing a quarterback that has that type of ability, you just got to be on your assignments for a full 60 minutes, which is way easier said than done,” All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner said. “There’s times in a game where you might be part of a long drive, guys get tired and all of a sudden the first thing that goes is your mind and you forget where you might need to fit in a certain play. It’s all about being detailed and everybody swarming to the ball if and when he does (run).”
The Niners have had great success ending the first half on a high note since Purdy took over. In the eight games since he stepped in, San Francisco has scored four TDs and two field goals for a league-best 34 points in the final 2 minutes of the first half. The Eagles have allowed only three points in the final 2 minutes of the first half in their last eight games.
AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow in Santa Clara, California, contributed to this report.
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