If Christian McCaffrey’s wounds from losing the NFC championship game are still stinging, he doesn’t have far to look to see where all the salt is coming from.
“I hope both teams lose,” McCaffrey said on NFL Network of the league’s showcase game, which annually doubles as the nation’s most-watched telecast.
McCaffrey’s very evident saltiness stems from the bizarre manner in which the Jan. 29 conference title game unfolded, leading to a 31-7 Philadelphia win. Riding a 12-game winning streak going into contest, the 49ers’ offense immediately found itself severely hampered when starting quarterback Brock Purdy suffered an elbow injury on San Francisco’s opening possession. Then, on the first drive of the second half, backup Josh Johnson was sidelined with a concussion. Purdy reentered the game but could barely throw the ball — he was later diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow — and despite staring at a 14-point deficit that would soon grow larger, the 49ers spent much of the second half having him hand off.
Not surprisingly, that plan proved ineffective, and what had been a highly anticipated matchup devolved into something of a farce, not to mention a bitter disappointment to McCaffrey and his teammates.
With plenty of time to stew over the turn of events, the two-time Pro Bowl back showed up for pre-Super Bowl interviews Wednesday, ax in hand, ready to grind.
“I hope both teams lose.”@CMC_22 on @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/VxRfETfxyg— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) February 8, 2023
“You don’t want to make excuses, obviously, but it just sucks, because we wish we had a healthy quarterback for a full game,” McCaffrey said on the “Up & Adams” show, “and just kind of see how the game would have panned out.
“It’s a really good team that we played, but it feels like something got stolen from you.
“Just wish it would have played out differently,” he continued. “Wish we could have ran that one back, but hopefully they change that rule where you can carry a third quarterback.”
Shortly thereafter, McCaffrey reiterated his desire to see the NFL return to a rule it altered in 2011, when it expanded game-day rosters from 45 to 46 players. The trade-off was that teams could no longer designate an “emergency” third quarterback to be inactive on game days but available to play if the first- and second-stringers got hurt.
“It’s tough to win a football game in the NFL without a quarterback, let alone the NFC championship game,” McCaffrey said in an interview with Pro Football Talk. “I wish they had changed the rule where you’re allowed to carry three.”
“It’s not good for us, obviously,” he added. “It’s not good for fans watching to not have a quarterback, so I hope there’s something they do with that moving forward, so that you can stay in the fight.”
The 2011 rule change did not, in fact, forbid teams from carrying three quarterbacks on game day. However, the 49ers and other squads have preferred to use the extra active roster spot at other positions, because almost all of them suffer injuries at higher overall rates than quarterback. That’s generally a sound move — until disaster strikes.
In the case of the 49ers, “disaster” arrived in a green jersey. Purdy and Johnson didn’t get injured all on their own, but rather on hard hits from a Philadelphia defense that’s five Super Bowl sacks away from breaking an NFL single-season record set by the legendary Chicago Bears of the mid-1980s.
Still, to San Francisco wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, the Eagles were the beneficiaries of unusually good fortune in being able to sink a suddenly rudderless San Francisco ship.
“You’ve got to get lucky to win a Super Bowl, and they just got extremely lucky,” Aiyuk said of Philadelphia earlier in the week on a 49ers-oriented YouTube channel.
“Like, we literally just played a football game for pretty much a half of football with no quarterback,” he added. “It’s the craziest thing. … I think this Kansas City pass game will expose what we thought we were going to be able to expose, before some unfortunate circumstances.”
“We’ve been the number one defense in the passing game almost the whole year.”— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) February 7, 2023
-Slay on Brandon Aiyuk‘s comments that Chiefs will beat Eagles and the Birds defense is not all that. pic.twitter.com/MEHrUGn4qj
McCaffrey was asked Wednesday about Aiyuk’s comments, leading to his “I hope both teams lose” line.
“To me, it doesn’t matter,” McCaffrey went on to say. “Obviously I wish I was, we wish we were playing so bad. That game still hurts and it will for a while, but I think Nick Bosa said it best: I don’t know if I’m going to watch the game. It might hurt too much.”
It’s not the first time a football player, having seen his season end one step away from the Super Bowl, wished nothing but bad things for both sides in the big game. In 2017, Pittsburgh running back DeAngelo Williams, whose Steelers had just lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game, said, “I hope both teams lose. I’m hoping for a blackout.”
In that case, Williams had reason to not only harbor ill will toward the Patriots but also their Super Bowl opponent, the Falcons. The veteran running back, then in his second season with Pittsburgh, had previously spent nine years as a member of the Carolina Panthers, with whom he squared off repeatedly against a division rival in Atlanta.
McCaffrey was also a Panthers running back for several years before an October trade brought him to the 49ers. That’s not necessarily a recipe for particular animosity toward the Chiefs, but McCaffrey is 0-2 against them thus far in his career. As fate would have it, the second of those losses was a 44-23 defeat at the hands of Kansas City in his first game for San Francisco. Following that setback, McCaffrey’s addition helped bolster the 49ers for an undefeated run that reached a dozen games, until it all came crashing down in Philadelphia.
“The wounds are still fresh lol,” he wrote Wednesday on Twitter.
The former Stanford star wasn’t alone that day in his post-conference championship game saltiness. Asked later about McCaffrey’s hopes for a double-defeat in the Super Bowl, Cincinnati wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase — whose Bengals dropped a painfully close contest to the Chiefs on the AFC side — readily endorsed that plague-on-both-your-houses position.
“100 percent,” said Chase on NFL Network. “I agree with that, Christian.”