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Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Christian McCaffrey: 49ers-Eagles was like “fighting with one arm”

Feb 9, 2023 at 8:55 AM

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The San Francisco 49ers were dealt a bad hand in the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles. They had already lost two starting quarterbacks during the regular season. QB3, rookie Brock Purdy, stepped in during Week 13, and the 49ers kept winning football games.

Purdy's impressive run ended on that January 29 afternoon, though. The quarterback suffered a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow, making it impossible to throw the football. Tight end George Kittle, joking with his quarterback, asked if there was any chance he was ambidextrous and could throw left-handed.

That wasn't going to happen.

The 49ers had overcome a lot this season, though. They weren't about to assume things were coming to a crashing end.

"Well, when Brock went down and [QB] Josh [Johnson] went in, we were all still confident," running back Christian McCaffrey told Steve Covino and Rich Davis of FOX Sports' Covino & Rich show on Wednesday in Arizona. "We knew we had a fight. And then when [Johnson] went down—you're never out of the fight. There's always something that could happen. You could get a pick-six, special teams could return one, keep you in the game. You're just trying to string together as many plays as possible to try to win.

"But it's tough, man. Looking back on the game, I think in the heat of battle, you're confident. And then, looking back on the game, you just wish you had a fair shot. Obviously, we got beat and we didn't have a fair shot because of the plays that those guys made, and so props to them. But it's like fighting with one arm. You just feel like you had something ripped from you."

Purdy ended up returning to the game after Johnson exited with a concussion. However, the 49ers couldn't ask Purdy to throw the football, handicapping the offense.

"What were you supposed to do in a moment like that?" McCaffrey's 49ers teammate, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, said on Wednesday. "We didn't want our season to end that way. If anything, we wanted to put up a fight instead of not having a chance."

For a moment before Purdy's return, it looked like McCaffrey was getting prepared for the possibility of entering the game at quarterback, an emergency situation that was nerve-wracking for the running back.

"If you know Kyle's system, it's very difficult to learn," McCaffrey explained. "It's difficult to learn as a running back. And so everyone's like, 'You should have went in at quarterback.' I'm like, 'I don't know if you understand what it takes to play quarterback.' There's a reason it's the highest-paid [position] in the league. It's tough. And so at that point, we were just in desperation mode, trying to see if, 'Hey, maybe we have a flea flicker here.'"

The loss was heartbreaking for McCaffrey and the 49ers. The running back had never made it that deep into the postseason. So to have the opportunity to appear in a Super Bowl ripped away like that was a tough way to go out.

"I think it'll bug us, everyone on the team, until we start getting ramped up again," McCaffrey admits. "And I know that because even the years that I got hurt, man, there wasn't a day that I woke up where I wasn't bitter and pissed off and angry. And you put on a smile, but that's just the real emotions of the sport. And then you got to listen to people talk about it, and it doesn't help."

He admits the chatter can be motivating, though.

"It 100 percent keeps you in the game, and there's a reason for everything, and I fully believe that," McCaffrey continued. "And you got to find ways to find gratitude and to be thankful for the journey. There's been seasons where we won five games, and I was here doing the same thing.

"To be able to even play in an NFC Championship and the whirlwind of a year that we had, you just got to keep working. At the end of the day, it's all about football. It's all about perfecting your craft, training, getting bigger, faster, stronger, perfecting the playbook."

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