NFL

Injury-hit 49ers determined to help Purdy past in-form Eagles

By Sports Desk January 27, 2023

The San Francisco 49ers know all about playing on this stage, but Brock Purdy most definitely does not.

The Niners visit the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, their record 18th appearance in the conference championship in the Super Bowl era.

Yet they will do so with the youngest starting quarterback in a conference championship since Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

And 22-year-old Purdy – 'Mr Irrelevant' in the 2022 draft – might have feared the prospect of facing a fierce Eagles defense this week as key team-mates Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel managed injuries.

Losing either player would represent a huge blow to Purdy and the 49ers; losing both is unthinkable.

Fortunately, coach Kyle Shanahan has continued to speak with optimism of their chances of playing in Philadelphia, while McCaffrey added on Thursday there was "zero" chance of him missing this game.

On the other side of the field, the Eagles, who go into the game rated as narrow favourites, know a thing or two about playing without their leading stars.

QB Jalen Hurts missed two weeks towards the end of the season with a shoulder injury but was able to return in time to hit the ground running in the postseason.

The number one seeds in the NFC showed exactly why they are that by beating the New York Giants 38-7 in the Divisional round last week.

That tied the Eagles' biggest ever playoff win, which had come by the same scoreline in their previous NFC Championship Game appearance against the Minnesota Vikings. After that victory, they defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

Given the strength of the two defenses, this matchup should be a little closer – although perhaps not as close as the last time Hurts met Purdy.

Hurts' Oklahoma held off a comeback from Purdy's Iowa State for a 42-41 win in the 2019 college season.

That remains the only game in the past 10 seasons between Power 5 QBs in which both threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for 50 yards and a TD.

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  • Europa League misery will not taint Alonso's Leverkusen pride Europa League misery will not taint Alonso's Leverkusen pride

    Xabi Alonso will not allow Bayer Leverkusen's Europa League final defeat against Atalanta to alter his pride, after their historic 51-game unbeaten run ended on Wednesday.

    The Bundesliga champions were eyeing an unlikely treble, with the DFB-Pokal final to come this weekend, but those plans came crashing down in a 3-0 loss to Atalanta.

    Ademola Lookman single-handedly powered Gian Piero Gasperini's side to their first title in 61 years, producing an individual performance for the ages with a decisive hat-trick.

    European heartbreak marked Leverkusen's first loss this season, with their last defeat coming to Bochum on the last day of the 2022-23 Bundesliga campaign, as Alonso's side were finally stopped.

    Yet the former Liverpool and Bayern Munich midfielder says nothing can take away from Leverkusen's memorable campaign.

    "For me the result today does not change one bit how I feel about my players or what we have been doing," the Leverkusen head coach told TNT Sports.

    "It hurts because we wanted to lift the trophy but you can't have everything. We lifted the Bundesliga and we have the chance to lift the DFB-Pokal on Saturday."

    Leverkusen are the first team to win the league title but lose the UEFA Cup/Europa League final in the same term since Benfica in 2013-14, and the first German side to do since Borussia Dortmund in 2001-02.

    "This season and achievements have surpassed all expectations," Alonso continued.

    "I was hoping and getting ready to maybe do something great but this has been so much more.

    "To achieve what we have for a club like Leverkusen is great. To be in the last week of the season having lifted the Bundesliga and then going for the Pokal too means a lot.

    "First year as a coach, it is going quite well!"

    A monumental occasion at the Aviva Stadium marked Atalanta's first-ever major European trophy as they became the 10th different Italian side to do so, second only to teams from England (13).

    Alonso was unsurprised by the excellence of Gasperini and his Atalanta side, however.

    "It is not something they have just done this year, they have been doing it for many years," the Spaniard said, acknowledging the work of 66-year-old Gasperini.

    "They are a special team. Normally we get in better positions ourselves but today we could not.

    "We were not able to come back and get that back. It was not meant to be.

    "The unbeaten run has come to an end but congratulations to Atalanta, they deserve it, so nothing more to say."

  • 'We wrote history' – Gasperini and Lookman cherish Atalanta's Europa League glory 'We wrote history' – Gasperini and Lookman cherish Atalanta's Europa League glory

    Gian Piero Gasperini and Ademola Lookman both cherished creating Atalanta history after ending Bayer Leverkusen's unbeaten run and securing Europa League glory.

    Lookman produced a performance worthy of the most important European moment in Atalanta's history, securing the club's first-ever major trophy on the continent after his dazzling hat-trick.

    The Nigeria winger is just the sixth player to manage a treble in a major UEFA final and the first since Jupp Heynckes’ for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Twente in 1975.

    Lookman will be the toast of Bergamo when Gasperini's side head home, boasting their first trophy in 61 years – after the Coppa Italia – following a 3-0 triumph to end Leverkusen's 51-game unbeaten run.

    "One of the best nights of my life," the hat-trick hero told TNT Sports in Dublin.

    "Amazing performance from the team, we did it, we did it, we did it! I haven't got much else to say, but fantastic."

    Lookman is also just the second player to score a treble for an Italian side in the final of a major European competition, after Pierino Prati for Milan against Ajax in the 1969 European Cup

    Preparing to leave the Aviva Stadium with the Europa League trophy in hand, Lookman could not wait to celebrate a seismic moment in the club's history.

    "We've got to celebrate, we made history tonight," he added.

    Gasperini, aged 66 years and 117 days on Wednesday, is the oldest coach to win his debut major European final, and the second Italian coach to win the Europa League after Maurizio Sarri in 2019.

    The veteran Atalanta mastermind echoed Lookman's sentiment, after securing just a second trophy in the Italian club's history.

    "I think we wrote history, also for the way we won it," said Gasperini, speaking to UEFA's official media channels.

    "It was just extraordinary, we defeated Liverpool, Sporting who won the championship. When we faced Liverpool they were first in the Premier League... And now the German champions.

    "Incredible. The boys were extraordinary, a memorable performance."

  • Lookman etches name into Atalanta history after Europa League glory against Leverkusen Lookman etches name into Atalanta history after Europa League glory against Leverkusen

    Ademola Lookman will be the toast of Bergamo after his hat-trick inspired Atalanta to Europa League glory, ending Bayer Leverkusen's 51-game unbeaten run after a 3-0 defeat in Dublin.

    Nigeria winger Lookman is just the second player to score a treble for an Italian side in the final of a major European competition, after Pierino Prati for Milan against Ajax in the 1969 European Cup.

    His single-handed match-winning heroics secured Atalanta's first-ever major European trophy as they became the 10th different Italian side to do so, second only to teams from England (13).

    The records continued to tumble for Lookman, whose hat-trick was the sixth in a major UEFA final and the first since Jupp Heynckes’ for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Twente in 1975.

    Having no response to a performance for the ages, Leverkusen suffered their first defeat since their final game of the 2022-23 season, ending a 361-day unbeaten run from last losing 3-0 to Bochum.

    Gian Piero Gasperini's masterclass will etch his name into Atalanta history, with the Italian – aged 66 years and 117 days on Wednesday – the fourth oldest manager to win a major European trophy.

    Only Raymond Goethals (71y 231d, 1993 Champions League), Heynckes (68y 16d, 2013 Champions League) and Alex Ferguson (66y 142d, 2008 Champions League), have done so at an older age.

    Owing to Gasperini's genius and Lookman's quality, Atalanta are the first Italian side to lift the Europa League trophy since its rebrand in 2009, with Parma in 1999 the last Serie A side to win the UEFA Cup.

    Alonso will hope to bounce back in Saturday's DFB-Pokal final but the Bundesliga champions are the first team to win the league title but lose the UEFA Cup/Europa League final in the same season since Benfica in 2013-14, and the first German side to do since Borussia Dortmund in 2001-02.

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