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Conference Championship worst bet: Maybe the 49ers had a quarterback issue

Was betting the 49ers to win the conference with their third-string quarterback a good idea? It depends on who's the fourth-stringer, apparently.

This week’s edition of NFL bad bets is easy: I made a glaringly lousy bet in the 49ers vs. Eagles game. This game turned into a circus after the Niners’ fourth-string quarterback got hurt. I’m not going to take the time to look it up, but I assume it’s the first time that has happened in an NFC Championship game. 

In hindsight, maybe taking the Niners and their lack of quarterback depth was not the best decision I’ve made recently. 

Quarterback depth is usually an issue

Injuries are hard to plan for–just ask the San Francisco 49ers. Things were going fine out of the gate for my fellow 49ers backers. The Eagles jumped to a quick lead, but the 49ers picked up two quick first downs on the Eagles’ defense early in the first quarter. 

Then, disaster. Brock Purdy dropped back on a 2nd and 6 at the 50-yard line and fell victim to a sack-fumble at the hands of Haason Reddick. Purdy went down with an elbow injury, later determined to be a torn UCL in his throwing arm. 

This is about the time I realized I had made a critical mistake. 

Had Jalen Hurts gotten injured instead, the Eagles could have turned to Gardner Minshew, a capable quarterback. Patrick Mahomes was injured a couple of weeks back, and Chad Henne stepped up with a touchdown-scoring drive in a playoff game. The point is backup quarterbacks are still NFL quarterbacks. If the starters go down, they are expected to do a decent job to keep their team alive. 

But what about when you get down to your third and fourth stringers? 

The potential for Purdy to get hurt, and the 49ers to be left with their pants down, was something I hadn’t even considered going into this game. 

Josh Johnson is still in the league?

I immediately began to rack my brain for who could be behind the last pick in the NFL Draft on the 49ers’ depth chart. 

The answer was veteran journeyman Josh Johnson, a 15-year veteran of the NFL as a member of 14 different teams. Johnson also played in the UFL, XFL, and AAF before finally landing back in the league last season. 

I love when this happens. A guy who has been in the league for this long, primarily as a backup or third-string QB, can fly completely under my radar. He even spent the 2016 season as a member of my favorite team, the New York Giants. And with a gun to my head, I couldn’t have told you the first thing about him before Sunday night. 

Johnson only mustered 2,280 yards in all those years and a TD/INT ratio of 13/16. So, it’s not like I was missing much. Predictably, Johnson struggled in the worst spot to get thrust into a game and went 7-for-13 with 74 yards and was sacked twice. 

Then Johnson got hurt, and all hell broke loose. 

Do the 49ers even have a quarterback? 

At this point, I had already counted the Niners out of this game and was at least happy to have hit my prop for Purdy not to throw an interception. 

As I salivated at the thought of Christian McCaffrey and Kyle Juszczyk running some insane wildcat formation, the 49ers made a decision I am still confused over. They sent Purdy back out onto the field.

At this point, I was convinced my prop was about to go down the tubes. At least until I realized Purdy could barely hold the ball with his right hand, let alone throw it. He did try, but it was ugly. 

What followed was a brutal finale to a potentially great game, especially considering how great the Niners’ defense played for the first and fourth quarters. 

Lesson learned

While it is practically impossible to predict injuries, it’s important to remember that they do happen. They are more common in the NFL than in most other leagues, and depth plays a significant factor. 

But, from now on, in the rare times when a team is down to a second or third-string QB, even if he’s fourth in the MVP odds, I will remember to double-check who is backing up the backup.