Six plays into San Francisco's first offensive drive of the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, linebacker Haason Reddick reminded everyone why he should have been considered much more significantly for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year honors. On a second-and-6 play from the 50-yard line, Reddick shrugged off a block from 49ers tight end Tyler Kroft and closed on quarterback Brock Purdy. Reddick hit Purdy on his right elbow and the football squirted forward 10 yards for what was initially ruled an incomplete pass.
"It's a pass play; tight end was on me. Whew, that's a recipe for disaster right there," Reddick said. "I thought he was going to chip. I didn't realize that he would be on me the whole time."
The play was important to the outcome of the 31-7 Eagles win for a variety of reasons. One, the Eagles challenged the call of the incomplete pass and, after review, the call was reversed and Philadelphia took possession at the Eagles' 44-yard line. The Eagles didn't take advantage of the takeaway, but the second part of the Reddick play was that Purdy went to the sideline for evaluation of an elbow injury, went into the blue medical tent, was surrounded by the 49ers' athletic training staff, and was replaced in the lineup by Josh Johnson, the 10-year journeyman veteran who became the fourth San Francisco quarterback of the season.
That big Reddick play changed the dynamic of the game as the 49ers largely became a one-dimensional, run-the-football offense. San Francisco squared the game at 7-7 on a Christian McCaffrey 23-yard scoring run, but then the Eagles answered with a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take a 14-7 advantage late in the first half.
"That's what's expected, right?" said Reddick, the Camden, New Jersey native who signed as a free agent with the Eagles in the offseason. "At the end of the day, I'm just glad to be any type of help, any type of asset to this team at the end of the day. I never think, 'Oh, I'm going to get this many sacks.' I just go out there. I play hard and when this clock is over, I'll see what happens."
Then Reddick happened again.
Johnson fumbled a snap on the ensuing drive and Reddick, in an intense scrum, emerged with the football at the 30-yard line. Three plays later, running back Boston Scott raced around the right end for a 10-yard touchdown and the Eagles led 21-7 at halftime.
Reddick's first-half stat line: three tackles, two quarterback sacks (he had one of Johnson on a speed-to-power inside move), one tackle for loss, one forced fumble, and one recovered fumble.
"Give me my respect," Reddick said. "When they talk about everyone else, remember Haason Reddick as well."
It's been that way all season for Reddick, signed as an unrestricted free agent and was the perfect addition to a defense that struggled mightily last season to reach the quarterback. Led by Reddick's 16.5 sacks, the Eagles turned that way 180 degrees to the positive, leading the NFL with 70 sacks (they had 29 in 2021) and leading the NFL in pass defense.
Reddick then showed up and balled out in the NFC Divisional Playoff win over the Giants, contributing 1.5 quarterback sacks, five tackles, and three quarterback hits.
Then on Sunday, he changed the course of the game on the sixth defensive snap, ending the improbable journey of Purdy – who returned to the game in the third quarter after Ndamukong Suh's hit on Johnson sent Johnson to the sidelines for a concussion evaluation – and the San Francisco offense. Purdy was unable to throw the ball down the field and the Eagles' defense smothered San Francisco the rest of the way.
"It's a blessing. It's a blessing," Reddick said. "It took me six years to get here (to the playoffs). To be able to come home, my first year, and then get here (to the Super Bowl) with the hometown team, it's a blessing. It's a blessing."