San Francisco running back Christian McCaffrey, right, is hoisted up by teammates after his rushing touchdown during the NFC divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday. Ashley Landis/Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The most taxing part of getting to the precipice of the Super Bowl only to fall short might be the long journey just to return to that stage for another shot.

Offseason workouts, followed by training camp, a 17-game season and then the early rounds of the playoffs.

The San Francisco 49ers once again got through all that and earned another chance at winning the NFC championship game after losing in frustrating fashion the previous two seasons.

“When you lose the NFC championship, you want to snap your fingers and be there again. But you can’t,” All-Pro fullback Kyle Juszczyk said after beating Green Bay 24-21 on Saturday night to return to this stage. “There’s so much that has to happen between that last loss and getting back there again. … I get emotional thinking about it. We’re back here, and it’s time to take care of business. It’s time.”

The 49ers (13-5) get that opportunity on Sunday when they host the Detroit Lions (14-5) for a spot in the Super Bowl.

San Francisco lost at this exact stage of the playoffs the past two seasons, blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter on the road against the Los Angeles Rams in the 2021 season and then losing again last year at Philadelphia when the Niners were forced to play much of the game without a functioning quarterback.

Advertisement

Starter Brock Purdy got hit hard on San Francisco’s opening drive and tore a ligament in his throwing elbow. That forced into action fourth-stringer Josh Johnson, who joined the team late in the season, and he tried to keep the game competitive.

But the Niners fell behind by two touchdowns before Johnson left with a concussion early in the third quarter, forcing Purdy to finish the game even though he couldn’t throw the ball more than a few yards.

Now they are back with a healthy Purdy and the confidence that this time will be different, that they won’t become the fifth team ever to lose in the conference title game in three straight seasons.

“We’ve been thinking about it, it’s been sort of in the back of our minds, like, last year we had a team to do it, and we feel like we didn’t have a real opportunity at it after the quarterbacks got hurt in that game,” Purdy said. “So, I think we’re really excited for it.”

The Niners have been one of the top teams in the league over the past five seasons, with their 61 wins in the regular season and playoffs ranking third in that span. But they don’t have a championship to show for it, as a franchise that won five titles in a 14-year span from 1981-94 is approaching a three-decade drought for championship No. 6.

“Me personally, I’m 0-2 in NFC championship games,” said 35-year-old All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams. “So this is one we’ve got to get. Obviously, I’m not getting any younger. So I definitely want to get to the top of the mountain. We definitely need this game. … We’ve got another opportunity. That’s all we can ask for.”

Advertisement

EAGLES: Philadelphia has fired offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, according to multiple sources, as Coach Nick Sirianni continues to reshape his staff following a season-ending collapse.

Johnson joins ousted defensive coordinator Sean Desai. The Eagles went from starting 10-1 to finishing 11-6 and losing 32-9 to Tampa Bay in the wild-card round.

Johnson joined the Eagles as quarterbacks coach in 2021 and was promoted to offensive coordinator after Shane Steichen left to take the head job in Indianapolis. He has interviewed with the Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans for head coach this month.

Under Johnson’s guidance as an assistant, Jalen Hurts was a finalist for AP NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 2022 and the Eagles reached the Super Bowl. But Hurts regressed this season with Johnson calling the plays. He threw a career-high 15 interceptions and his passer rating dropped to 89.1 from 101.5 last season.

RAIDERS: Las Vegas is hiring Tom Telesco as general manager, according to multiple reports.

Telesco, 51, has worked in the NFL since 1991, most recently as the general manager of the Chargers from 2013 until Dec. 15, when he was fired a day after the Chargers lost to the Raiders, 63-21. He has been given high marks for his drafting and roster construction with the Chargers, who consistently field one of the NFL’s most talented teams.

Advertisement

BEARS: Chicago hired Shane Waldron as its offensive coordinator on Tuesday, hoping he can get the most out of Justin Fields or a new quarterback if they draft one with the No. 1 overall pick.

Waldron joins the staff of Coach Matt Eberflus after spending the past three seasons as offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll in Seattle. He replaces Luke Getsy, who was fired after two years.

PANTHERS: Carolina’s vice president of football administration Samir Suleiman is no longer with the team, meaning the Panthers will be looking for someone to manage the salary cap and contract negotiations moving forward, a team spokesman said Tuesday.

The move comes one day after the team promoted Dan Morgan to president of football operations and general manager. Morgan replaced his former boss Scott Fitterer, who was fired earlier this month after the Panthers finished 2-15.

SUPER BOWL: Veteran referee Bill Vinovich will lead the officiating crew for the Super Bowl next month in Las Vegas.

The NFL announced Tuesday that Vinovich will work his third Super Bowl and be joined by a crew that includes umpire Terry Killens, down judge Patrick Holt, line judge Mark Perlman, field judge Tom Hill, side judge Allen Baynes, back judge Brad Freeman and replay official Mike Chase.

Killens will become the first person to both play in and officiate a Super Bowl. Killens made one tackle on special teams for the Tennessee Titans against the St. Louis Rams on Jan. 30, 2000.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.