“It was a lot of boo hoos last year, a lot of crying, a lot of what if, a lot of this, a lot of that. They get a chance to come back in here, line that s*** up and prove it again.”
Those were the words of Philadelphia Eagles pass rusher Haason Reddick this week as he looked ahead to the visit of the San Francisco 49ers to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday – the next chapter in a fierce new NFC rivalry.
It made sense that the Niners were upset after departing last year’s playoffs at the hands of the Eagles, considering the manner in which it happened.
After just four passing attempts (and four completions), San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy was sacked by Reddick, who forced a fumble and in the process injured Purdy’s elbow to the point he was unable to throw the ball.
Later, backup QB Josh Johnson also exited with a concussion, and a traditionally exhilarating 49ers attack became completely inept.
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel said: “We lost because we played with 10 people” after the defeat that ended the Niners’ Super Bowl hopes, before publicly calling Eagles cornerback James Bradberry “trash” over the summer.
At the same time, fellow wideout Brandon Aiyuk argued: “We have, hands down, the best football team in the league… hands down.”
Those comments have stayed in the minds of players, coaches and fans ahead of one of the most exciting matchups of the year.
Aiyuk: We felt like it was our time
In the above quote, Aiyuk was referring to the way the 49ers reached that championship game. They were on a 12-game winning streak. They were fifth in offensive yardage and points scored, as well as first in both categories on defense.
Then the season fizzled out without a fight – or at least, an opportunity for one.
As we approach the ‘business end’ of this regular season, does it feel like San Francisco’s time again?
Based solely on the statistics, this year’s iteration of the Niners might be even better. Third in yards and fourth in points per game on offense. Fifth in yards and first in points on defense, allowing just 15.5 points per game (16.3 last season).
Christian McCaffrey is still the star of the show, and the league’s runaway rushing leader with 939 yards – over 150 more than second-placed Raheem Mostert. McCaffrey’s 1,328 yards from scrimmage are second only to Tyreek Hill, and his 16 total touchdowns are more than anyone.
But what has been incredible to see is the development of sophomore quarterback Purdy, who is becoming one of the league’s elite quarterbacks – without being in the discussion about it. He does not have strong MVP odds, but head over topage and Purdy’s name comes up plenty.
He leads the NFL in passer rating (112.3), completion percentage (70.2) and yards per attempt (9.4). Not only is he completing passes, but he’s pushing the ball down the field. He’s thrown for the eighth-most yards (2,871) and touchdowns (19), with just six interceptions.
With eight wins under his belt too, why isn’t he in the discussion for being the league’s most valuable player? It might be simply because he does not have the name value of a college star and high draft pick. Is it too much of a rise to see someone go from Mr Irrelevant – the 262nd overall pick in 2022 – to the heights he is playing at now?
Or, more likely, it is because the talent around him is tremendous.
McCaffrey, as we know, is the league’s best runner. This week, San Francisco’s offensive line took overfor the season. The Niners have a top-10 receiver (Brandon Aiyuk, 881 yards) and a top-three tight end (George Kittle, 667 yards). Deebo Samuel has been slowed by injuries, but is just a season removed from a 1,770-total yard and 14-touchdown 2021 campaign.
The defense, led by defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, not only leads the league in yardage as mentioned above, but causes chaos with turnovers – they have made a league-leading 15 interceptions and forced 21 turnovers in total.
Not only are they schemed up well, but they are absolutely loaded with talent. The Niners are ready for revenge.
Bosa: We were both sad at the end of the year
While Samuel and Aiyuk chose to talk trash, 49ers veterans Fred Warner and Nick Bosa both this week referred to the fact last year was “over”. The Eagles won, nothing changes that. But even Philadelphia did not achieve their ultimate goal of beating the Kansas City Chiefs and winning it all.
So for Eagles, this is a season to make up for the final failure of last year, and a season to prove they are unequivocally the best team in football. So far, that is exactly what they are doing.
At 10-1, they hold the NFL’s best record. They are third in the NFL in points scored per game (28.2 – coincidentally tied with San Francisco), despite a bottom-half defense (22.4 points per game allowed).
They have quietened any talk of a soft schedule and weak quarterbacks this year or last by beating Miami (8-3), Dallas (8-3), Kansas City (8-3), and Buffalo (6-6) in four of their last five games, as quarterback Jalen Hurts simply continues to find a way to win.
With the 49ers this week and a visit to Dallas next, the Eagles have a chance to continue their Super Bowl revenge tour and get closer to securing the No 1 seed in the NFC.
Incredibly though, despite their 10-1 record, Philadelphia have technically not yet clinched a postseason berth. However, with a win and either a Los Angeles Rams loss or if Detroit and Green Bay both lose, Philly will officially be a playoff team.
Regardless of who comes out on top, it will be a heavyweight bout. And would anyone be surprised if we saw another rematch in January?
Watch the San Francisco 49ers at the Philadelphia Eagles live on Sky Sports NFL at 9.25pm on Sunday.
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