49ers players defend controversial play call on Purdy injury


Sunday was filled with plenty of 'what-ifs' for a 49ers team that is becoming all too accustomed to the annual late-January wound-licking. 

The 49ers' 31-7 NFC Championship Game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles featured injuries to starting quarterback Brock Purdy and backup Josh Johnson, leaving San Francisco in an unfathomably difficult situation. 

Purdy suffered a torn UCL early in the first quarter on a second-and-6 play where Eagles outside linebacker Haason Reddick applied pressure, swatting at Purdy's right arm which resulted in a costly fumble that was recovered by Philadelphia. 

After Sunday's game, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan came under fire for the devastating play because of the decision to have backup tight end Tyler Kroft blocking Reddick, one of the league's best pass-rushers. 

Ultimately, the play resulted in a costly fumble and a game-changing injury, which many are attributing to Shanahan's call. 

In speaking to reporters in the 49ers' locker room on Tuesday, George Kittle, one of the league's best blocking tight ends, discussed the play-call and why he believes his fellow tight ends are capable of handling such pressure off the edge. 

"If Coach Shanahan calls something, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability and I believe the guys around me can do it, we have a good tight end room," Kittle said. "Whoever it is is talented to make that block. Reddick is a fantastic pass-rusher ... but I believe Kroft can make that block for the timing that you need to make that block for. It didn't happen, that's football.

"I still believe in my teammates being able to make those blocks. It's unfortunate, but everyone's going to come at Kyle for that, saying 'why did you leave a tight end on a defensive end?' People do it, it's just on that play it didn't work very well."

Right tackle Mike McGlinchey, who was lined up inside on the play to Kroft's left, believes any criticism directed at Shanahan for the play-call is unwarranted. 

"Our tight ends are extremely capable of doing these things," McGlinchey told reporters Tuesday. 

"To say that it's a 'stupid' decision is insane to me and it's just somebody that doesn't really understand how to build a game plan throughout football ... It's nothing out of the ordinary and we do it a lot. There's always criticisms when the clicker is in somebody's hand and knows the things that can happen, but there was no second thought about that, it was just a freak thing that happened."

Center Jake Brendel echoed a similar sentiment. 

"That's pass protection that probably 90 percent of the NFL runs," Brendel added. "Everyone runs like a weak outside-zone or inside-zone so I feel like every single team is going to have a play-action off of that. I just feel like Reddick wasn't really honoring the run at all the entire game. I feel like that was kind of the perfect storm."

RELATED: 49ers overreactions: Purdy injury worse than loss to Eagles

Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, so it's easy to criticize Shanahan for the play-call after disaster had struck. However, as Shanahan's own players stressed on Tuesday, Kroft's assignment certainly was not out of the ordinary. 

It might be a tough pill to swallow for fans, but unfortunately for the 49ers, they once again were devastatingly unlucky. 

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