49ers looking to turn regular-season success into Super Bowl LVIII title
While the 49ers may find themselves in a familiar position as NFC champs, much has changed since their appearance in the Big Game four seasons ago. The most drastic of which has been the emergence of former 'Mr. Irrelevant' Brock Purdy taking over for Jimmy Garoppolo.
Purdy's Cinderella-like rookie season ended early for the Niners as he left the NFC title game against the Philadelphia Eagles early after injuring his throwing shoulder. With the Niners spiralling, losing primary backup Josh Johnson, running back Christian McCaffrey was forced to take snaps under centre as well in the 31-7 loss.
Purdy was reported to have suffered an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury to his shoulder – an injury that could have jeopardized his availability for the 2023 season.
Continuing to defy the odds, the 24-year-old slinger from Iowa State returned in time and was given the keys to Kyle Shanahan's offence with the team dealing former No. 3 pick in the 2021 draft Trey Lance to the Dallas Cowboys.
The 49ers shined in their regular-season opening game against T.J. Watt and the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning 30-7, with Purdy completing 19 of his 29 pass attempts for 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Purdy and the Niners rattled off four straight wins, with Purdy throwing for over 200 yards in each game until the Cleveland Browns handed them their first loss of the season in Week 6.
Things compounded for the 49ers a week later against the Minnesota Vikings when Purdy absorbed a helmet-to-helmet hit while lunging forward in a 'tush push' play.
Purdy finished the game with 272 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception, but his availability for the foreseeable future was in question.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Oct. 28 that Purdy cleared concussion protocol and had no injury designation for their upcoming game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Purdy started and threw for a season-high 365 yards while throwing one touchdown and a pair of interceptions in their 31-17 loss – their third loss in a row.
Their Week 9 bye, seemingly, couldn't have come at a better time, with the health of Purdy remaining a lingering question.
The Niners got right against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 10 to the tune of 34-3 to halt their downward spiral and get back to looking like the Super Bowl contenders they were painted to be. Their win against the Jags kick-started another lengthy streak, winning five straight games to get to 11-3 on the season.
All eyes were on the 49ers and the AFC-leading Baltimore Ravens on Christmas Day as the two collided in what was touted as a Super Bowl preview.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Purdy went toe-to-toe for four quarters. However, it was the 2019 MVP who emerged victorious as Jackson threw for 252 yards and a pair of majors to Purdy's 255 yards and four interceptions.
Following a win against the Washington Commanders, the 49ers entered Week 18 the leaders in the NFC clubhouse. With a first-round bye clinched, the team shelved most of their starters against the Los Angeles Rams. Backup Sam Darnold assumed the quarterback duties, while Elijah Mitchell filled in for McCaffrey, and Chris Conley led the team in receiving with 69 yards.
NFC West crown in hand, the Niners looked towards the postseason and the path to Las Vegas. First up: the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round.
A 15-point third quarter by the Packers had the Niners on the ropes and trailing 21-14 heading into the fourth. A field goal by Jake Moody cut the lead down to four points before Packers kicker Anders Carlson pulled a 41-yard attempt wide left to open the doors for a 49ers' comeback.
A similar script played out against the Detroit Lions in the NFC title game a week later as the Niners trailed heading into the half before rallying down 17 to punch their Super Bowl ticket.
Now, the stage is set for the 49ers as they stare down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs as they look to hoist the Lombardi trophy for the first time since the 1994 season and rob the Chiefs of back-to-back titles in the process.