The 49ers' season ended more than a week ago now with San Francisco's 31-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, in which the Niners had to play through almost half a game of football with no healthy starting quarterback.
With Brock Purdy unable to throw after tearing his UCL and backup Josh Johnson put in concussion protocol, the second half of the highly anticipated matchup featured virtually no offense from San Francisco and an anti-climactic end to the season just short of the Super Bowl.
In the aftermath, 49ers players discussed how difficult it has been to have the year end in such a fashion after overcoming so much adversity already, including wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who said earlier this week that the "weird situation" the Niners played through will be something he thinks about for a long time.
Talking on Super Bowl Live on Wednesday, running back Christian McCaffrey was the latest player to discuss the feelings of disappointment surrounding the loss. Though McCaffrey said the team debated at the time having him line up at quarterback, the lack of practice of that scenario meant there were not a lot of options in the game plan for working with no QBs for two full quarters.
"It's tough to win a football game in the NFL without a quarterback, especially in the NFC Championship Game against a defense like that," McCaffrey said. "You know, you don't practice a whole lot of Veer in practice, you don't practice a lot of emergency quarterback. Not to say you don't practice it, but it's just not something that's ideal, especially with a whole half of football left, so we were just trying to do whatever we could at the time."
Now the 49ers will have to watch the Eagles face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII this Sunday, knowing that without a couple key injuries, it might have been them fighting for a Lombardi Trophy. That knowledge makes the game difficult to watch for the players.
"You know, I hope both teams lose. To me, it doesn't matter," McCaffrey said. "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."
McCaffrey acknowledged the hurt from the game won't go away immediately, but once Sunday passes and thoughts turn to preparation for next season and the long road toward Super Bowl LVIII, the 49ers will be able to use the pain in their efforts to come back even stronger.
"I think it'll start to go away once next season starts. We'll have a lot of fuel this offseason," he said.
A major part of that will be figuring out the quarterback situation. Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to move on, but San Francisco has two young options in Purdy and Trey Lance, both of whom are working through major injuries. While decisions are yet to be made and the pain lingers, focusing on 2023 will help the Niners start to get past yet another heartbreaking postseason loss.