It was the most anticipated game of the 2023 season: a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship Game, with plenty surrounding it and no love lost between the two teams.
It took a minute, but once the 49er’s offense got moving, it wouldn’t stop with Brock Purdy and Deebo Samuel leading the way, and Steve Wilks’ defense held a high-powered Eagles offense to just 19 points despite plenty of chances. The win moves the 49ers one game out of the top spot of the NFC with the tiebreaker in its back pocket, giving San Francisco home field throughout the postseason if the two teams finish with the same record.
Plenty of positives to go around, so let’s start with the biggest winner of Sunday:
Winner: WR Deebo Samuel
Not only did Samuel have his best game of 2023, but it featured not one but two vintage Deebo plays, something that hasn’t quite happened this season.
The 49ers receiver finished with four receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown, with another three carries for 22 yards and a rushing touchdown, Samuel’s first multi-score game since Week 12 of 2021. Samuel didn’t have a score until the second half but scored all three touchdowns in the 49ers’ final four drives.
The first was a 12-yard touchdown run on an end-around - giving the 49ers a touchdown on the two-for-one around halftime - to put San Francisco up 21-6. That’s when 2021 Deebo Samuel reared his head.
Philadelphia responded with a touchdown of its own, cutting the lead to eight points. After converting a third-and-10 at the 49ers’ 26-yard line, Brock Purdy hit Samuel on a six-yard en route before Nicholas Morrow wrapped Samuel up. Samuel quickly shook Morrow off and easily sped past Darius Slay en route to the 48-yard score to put the 49ers back up two scores.
Two drives later, with the game out of reach, Purdy threw to Samuel, who took the screen pass 46 yards in what would have been a score under two-hand touch rules.
Two plays, about 88 yards after the catch, two scores, and the 49ers up 42-19. Samuel spoke the loudest over the offseason, and his play was definitely the loudest on Sunday.
Winner: QB Brock Purdy
All of Purdy’s five best games in terms of passing yards have come this season, with three occurring in his last four games.
His 314 passing yards are the third-highest total of his career, and his four passing touchdowns match his career-high set against Dallas earlier this year. In his three games against NFC East opponents this season, Purdy completed 61 of 88 passes for 876 yards with ten touchdowns and no interceptions, with the 49ers going 3-0 in those games.
The quarterback saved his best performance - not just against the NFC East but of the season - for the most important game of 2023.
His day started slow - the 49ers opened the game with consecutive three-and-outs - but Purdy responded with an 11-play drive, completing six-of-seven pass attempts, hitting a diving Brandon Aiyuk in the end zone to get the 49ers on the board. He followed up with a 10-play drive spanning 90 yards, completing another four-of-five passes before Christian McCaffrey scored a rushing touchdown to close the first half.
Purdy’s second half included the two Samuel scores and a third-and-Jauan touchdown where the 49ers receiver took an out route and shook off Eli Ricks with a stiff arm for the game-sealing touchdown.
Purdy’s performance not only firmly puts him in the MVP conversation but also makes him the favorite.
Loser: LB Dre Greenlaw
This is not about the Eagles staffer and his part in this mess - although the referees could have been more cinematic with his ejection like a professional referee winding up before ejecting the heel manager - it’s about Greenlaw and his constant extra-circulars.
Greenlaw plays with his hair on fire - something 49ers fans saw his rookie season with his famous play in Seattle - but sometimes that leads to mistakes. He’s constantly called personal foul penalties, which hurts the defense each time. Sunday was no different. As Greenlaw and Ambry Thomas tried to wrestle DeVonta Smith to the ground, the 49ers’ linebacker sent the Eagles receiver to Suplex City, drawing a flag on the Eagles’ sideline. While the Eagles staffer was in the wrong for touching him, Greenlaw also made contact with him, which will get a player ejected every time, as Greenlaw was.
The entire situation could have been avoided if Greenlaw had avoided the initial personal foul penalty. But another mistake after the play from Greenlaw snowballed into his ejection.
Winner: 49ers responses
The Eagles scored six plays after Greenlaw’s ejection, cutting the 49ers lead down to eight and getting the crowd back into it. Momentum would have been firmly on the Eagles’ side with a defensive stop, and how did the 49ers offense respond? The 10-play drive mentioned above spanned 77 yards and resulted in Samuel’s first receiving touchdown.
The 49ers’ most impressive drive of the game was in response to the Eagles’ best drive, but everything after the first quarter was a response from San Francisco.
The 49ers’ offense opened the game with six plays and no first downs in the first 15 minutes, with Philadelphia leading the time-of-possession battle by more than 10 minutes. What about the 49ers’ next five drives after the first quarter?
11 plays, 85 yards, touchdown
Ten plays, 90 yards, touchdown
Seven plays, 75 yards, touchdown
Five plays, 77 yards, touchdown
Two plays, 48 yards, touchdown
And it’s not like the Eagles didn’t have their chances. With the 10-minute time of possession advantage in the first quarter, Philadelphia ran 18 more plays and had more first downs than San Francisco had plays ran but could only manage two field goals with 120 total yards on the first two drives. From there, it was all 49ers.
Despite not giving up a first-quarter point, the 49ers’ 42 points on Sunday was the most a Philadelphia defense allowed since giving 52 points in Week 18 of 2021.
Loser: the pass rush
I’m writing this on Sunday night, so I don’t have Pro Football Focus’s pressure numbers yet, but man, it felt like Jalen Hurts had a ton of time to throw the entire game.
The 49ers’ pass rush managed three sacks, but the first came in the first quarter, where Hurts had all the time in the world but tripped as Javon Kinlaw was approaching for what has to be the easiest sack of Kinlaw’s career.
The second sack was another coverage sack where Hurts had plenty of time again but didn’t move until the pocket collapsed, walking into another Kinlaw sack. Kalia Davis tacked on a fourth-quarter sack - the first of his career - to complete the trifecta.
This didn’t impact the game, but with a 33-point win, you would have thought the pass rush would have had a more significant impact.
Winner: The secondary
The Eagles’ passing numbers might disagree - Hurts threw for nearly 300 yards, with Brown and Smith combining for more than 200 yards - but the secondary was solid.
Yes, it had an issue with those early third-down slants, but despite Hurts having all that time in the pocket, nothing hurt the 49ers. There were a few big plays, Brown’s 38-yard third down reception early in the game or Smith’s third-and-19 screen pass conversion in the third, but Charvarius Ward and Ambry Thomas would combine for seven pass deflections with both breaking up at least one pass in the end zone.
Ward’s first end zone pass breakup came against Brown in the end zone on a third-and-goal on Philadelphia’s opening drive, forcing the first field goal. In the second quarter, with the 49ers up 7-6, Hurts took a second-down deep shot to Quez Watkins, which Thomas could get his body in front of to force the incompletion.
Ward’s second end zone pass breakup came in the third quarter up 15, again ruining a potential Brown touchdown; however, Hurts would be pushed into the end zone a couple of plays later to cut into the 49ers lead.
Thomas’ pass breakup in the end zone would come with the game out of reach, spoiling a pass in the flat to Brown late in the fourth quarter. The secondary had a challenging task with some good Philadelphia receivers, and while the numbers were high, they held their own.
Winner: The run game
It was an ominous start. The 49ers’ first run came at 2:01 of the first quarter, resulting in a Samuel four-yard loss. McCaffrey’s first touch wasn’t until 14:11 of the second, and his first positive run wasn’t until five minutes later, but after that, the Eagles run defense didn’t stand a chance.
McCaffrey finished with 93 rushing yards on 17 attempts, scoring his 12th rushing touchdown of the season while eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth time in his career in just 12 games. If, over his next five games, McCaffrey can maintain his 86-yard-per-game average, he’d set a new career-high for rushing yards set in 2019 and is three rushing scores away from his career-high set in the same season.
Once the 49ers got McCaffrey going, everything else in San Francisco’s offense fell together, resulting in the 42-point outburst.