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The San Francisco 49ers deserved better. The Philadelphia Eagles are moving on to the Super Bowl, and it stings for many Niners players, including tight end George Kittle.

Kittle and the San Francisco offense struggled to move the ball when rookie quarterback Brock Purdy injured his throwing elbow. It got worse when Josh Johnson, the backup and team’s fourth quarterback this season, was checked for a concussion and didn’t return. After Sunday’s game, Kittle was blunt when talking about his team’s 31-7 loss.

George Kittle and the 49ers got a tough break

George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers runs in motion against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter in the NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 29, 2023, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. | Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images.

All season long, the 49ers overcame it. Whenever their quarterback went down, someone stepped up. On Sunday, they just ran out of them.

For two months, the Niners rode the right arm of Purdy, known as “Mr. Irrelevent,” after he was the final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. Purdy was thrown into action in early December when veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a foot injury. Garoppolo was playing because starting quarterback Trey Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2.

Purdy did much more than expected and helped secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The rookie from Iowa State played like a seasoned veteran, displaying a rare form of poise and confidence for someone who saw 261 players drafted before him in April. He won all seven games he started as he headed into Sunday’s game with the Eagles.

On San Francisco’s sixth offensive play of the game, Purdy went back to pass and was hit just as he was about to release the ball. The ball fell to the ground, and the Eagles recovered the fumble. Worse for the 49ers was Purdy suffered a painful elbow injury and was replaced by Johnson. Johnson left early in the third quarter for a concussion check and never returned.

The Niners offense hadn’t skipped a beat when Purdy came in against the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 4. Kittle might have been the biggest beneficiary with Purdy under center. He caught seven of his 11 touchdown passes from Purdy, including two in a game when he caught six passes for 120 yards in a win over the Washington Commanders.

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When Johnson went down with his injury, Purdy returned to the field. It was clear his arm was bothering him, and he was in there to maintain some normalcy in the running game. He threw two passes upon his return, completing one to Christian McCaffrey for three yards and one to Kittle for another yard.

According to ESPN, Purdy, who has an MRI scheduled for Monday, told head coach Kyle Shanahan he was unable to make any throws longer than five-to-10 yards.

“He went and kept throwing and realized he couldn’t, so there was really no discussion after that,” Shanahan said. “He couldn’t throw.”

The Niners played most of the second half without a quarterback. The Eagles played the run and held San Francisco scoreless in the second half. San Francisco’s defense kept the team in the game, but the Niners just couldn’t move the ball offensively.

A frustrated Kittle spoke the truth after the game.

“How does it feel to lose the NFC Championship Game because I don’t have a quarterback?” Kittle said. “Pretty s***ty, to be honest.

“We didn’t really get to see all the 49er football that we wanted to put out there on tape. But life just kind of punches you in the face sometimes.”