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We’ve waited all season for NFL Championship weekend. Unfortunately, the main stories coming out of the first half of the NFC Championship are regarding missed calls, challenges, non-challenges and injuries.
It started early, with Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith seemingly making an incredible one-handed catch to convert a crucial early fourth down. But, replays showed that Smith did not catch the pass and the 49ers should have reviewed the play.
Brock Purdy injury greatly changes complexion of NFC Championship Game
On the next drive, 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy dropped back to pass. Eagles defender Hassan Reddick hit Purdy as he attempted to throw. The pass popped in the air and fell to the ground when Eagles defenders failed to haul in the wobbling ball.
However, replays showed that Reddick knocked the ball out of Purdy’s hand before he threw it. Purdy’s arm smacked the ball forward, but it was already loose.
The Eagles challenged the play and it was ruled that Purdy did fumble and the Eagles clearly recovered.
But the bigger story is that Purdy hurt his arm on the strip-sack. Trainers attended to him on the sideline, but he remained there rather than go into the locker room.
Despite that, following an Eagles punt, Josh Johnson entered the game at quarterback for the 49ers. Having lost Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo earlier this season, the 49ers are now playing their fourth-string quarterback in the NFC Championship Game.
Additionally, 49ers star Nick Bosa suffered an injury during the half. Bosa returned to the game, but clearly isn’t 100%.
On Johnson’s first dropback of the game, Hassan Reddick again got home and absolutely blasted him. Replays showed that the ball may have started coming loose as Reddick and Johnson went to the ground. Reddick came away with the football, but referees ruled Johnson down.
The play was close, but there’s an argument to made that the Eagles should have been awarded the football.
NFL officials return to spotlight … on a punt
Later in the half, the Eagles once again saw their drive stall. Philadelphia punter Brett Kern got off a rather poor kick that went out of bounds after just 34 yards. To make matters worse, the Eagles were assessed a foul on the play, costing them an additional 10 yards.
But Philadelphia players started shouting and pointing towards the sky. They claimed that the punt hit a camera wire and that caused the kick to travel such a short distance.
Had that been the call, the down would have been declared a “do-over.” That would have allowed Kern to attempt the kick again and wiped the Eagles foul off the board.
However, after conferring with New York (NFL officiating headquarters) the referees ruled that they could not definitively see the ball make contact with a wire. The call stood and the 49ers took over at midfield.
Josh Johnson leads improbable TD drive for 49ers
Against all odds, and following a disastrous first drive, fourth-string 49ers quarterback completed the first playoff pass of his career.
After that, the 49ers offense became the Christian McCaffrey show. Run CMC broke several tackles on different plays, made an incredible bobbling catch across the middle and eventually just willed his way into the endzone for the 49ers first points of the NFC Championship.
Penalties doom 49ers, Eagles take lead into halftime of the NFC Championship
Following the controversial opening-drive touchdown from the Eagles, the 49ers defense locked down. Philaldelphia’s next three drives after their first ended in punts. They gained just one first down across those three possessions.
But after the 49ers touchdown, the Eagles embarked on a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive marked by three defensive penalties on San Francisco. All three penalties proved monumental.
One foul occurred on a third down that would have ended the drive. Another negated a sack. The third prevented the 49ers from forcing a third-and-long.
Eventually, Miles Sanders scored for the second time.
Wheels fall off for 49ers at the end of the first half
San Francisco got the ball back with about 90 seconds remaining in the half. They elected to go aggressive and allow Johnson to try and move them into scoring range.
But on the second play of the drive, Johnson fumbled a snap. The snap was perfect, but Johnson just dropped it. Then, he couldn’t pick it up … or even fall on it, even though it was right beneath him.
The Eagles recovered, setting them up to score again.
Another massive penalty on the 49ers defense, a facemask call on a play that went for negative yards gave Philadelphia a first and goal.
Boston Scott ran the ball in on the very next play.
Down 14 points on the road against the #1 seed in the NFC with their fourth-string quarterback in the game, things are looking very bleak for the San Francisco 49ers.
Crazier things have happened, but the Philadelphia Eagles are 30 minutes away from a return trip to the Super Bowl, their first since their 2017 championship.
Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @OutkickDanZ