Super Bowl: 49ers legend Brent Jones on the Eagles, Jalen Hurts and San Francisco going all the way

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Brent Jones won three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers. Yet he is not reveling in the glory of those championships, more reliving the pain of the ones that got away.

As the 49ers prepare for Sunday’s colossal clash in Philadelphia between the NFC’s top two teams on championship weekend, an animated and anguished Jones knows what lies ahead.

‘This is the toughest game,’ he says. ‘You’re so close to tasting the sweetness of the Super Bowl. And if you lose, your whole season abruptly stops.

Super Bowl: 49ers legend Brent Jones on the Eagles, Jalen Hurts and San Francisco going all the way

San Francisco 49ers legend Brent Jones speaks to DailyMail.com ahead of the NFC title game

Jones dives for the end zone during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in December 1996

Jones dives for the end zone during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in December 1996

‘I played in seven NFC Championship games and lost four. And those are the four games that I remember – all these years later those are the most painful memories that I have. You could have been there, you were inches away. You could have done this, you could have done that…’

Don’t those three rings soften the blow, even a little bit?

‘Man, you know I think I should have five or six!’ he counters. I felt like we had the best team in so many of those years! But unless it’s on the scoreboard you can’t claim it.’

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1986, the tight end was released after a year but was picked up by San Francisco. After catching passes from Joe Montana and Steve Young he ended his career in 1997 after 143 games and three championships. 

Jones played in the only playoff meeting between the teams – a 14-0 wild card win in 1996 – and his love for the Niners is evident. He still refers to the team as ‘we’ as he breaks down the game.

Jones opened up on Brock Purdy and his incredible rise from last in the draft to first-choice QB

Jones opened up on Brock Purdy and his incredible rise from last in the draft to first-choice QB

‘Offensively we’re going to have to execute. We’re gonna have to put more points on the board, more touchdowns, less field goals. I think the Eagles present a great challenge and so we’re going to have to be up for it offensively,’ he says.

‘Defensively they present a different challenge as well. They’ve got a great tight end, some great receivers and a great quarterback. Even if we cover all those guys up in the passing game, I get nervous about Jalen Hurts running the ball. I’m hoping that we have a great defensive package, can get some pressure in and not let him get loose with the ball in his hands.’

The 49ers sailed past Seattle with a 41-23 win on wild card weekend and got the better of the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round in an attritional 19-12 win.

But while Dallas did not possess a deep threat, the Eagles boast AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith – arguably the best receiving tandem in the league. The pair are affecting Jones’ sleep.

‘That’s what keeps me up at night right now,’ he says. ‘I think that defensively we’re still the best team. I feel confident there. I think our offense has been on a remarkable roll. Last week was the first time I felt like Dallas’s plan really pressed us in and didn’t leave up as many opportunities for big plays that we’ve seen over the last several weeks.

Jones is confident that the current crop of 49ers can follow in his footsteps and go all the way

Jones is confident that the current crop of 49ers can follow in his footsteps and go all the way

‘A big part of that I think was their pass rush and the Eagles can bring maybe even higher degree of pass rush so we’re going to have to be prepared for that. But I’m sure our offensive coaches have got some things in store for the Eagles. I still believe that this team has something special and we’re one win away from where we want to be, so I’m feeling good about the game.

‘I’m gonna go the opposite way of the defensive struggle from last week. I think that there’s gonna be a lot more points scored this week for whatever reason, just in my gut. I just feel like that’s going to be the case. Lots of big play guys. Big spotlight game. Winner goes to the Super Bowl – the loser goes home…’

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Let’s not relive that again, but instead talk of George Kittle and San Francisco’s offensive weapons.

‘I think George is as good as tight end as there is. I know Travis Kelce gets a lot of the publicity and gets probably a lot more opportunities. I think George in terms of speed route running, and just overall ability on the blocking side of things is the is the best overall tight end in the league.

‘He was banged up early in the season and had a little bit of a slow start, but the second half of the season he’s come on like gangbusters and truly has become one of the favorite targets.

Jalen Hurts is a problem for the 49ers and Jones says he's been 'kept up at night' by Eagles star

Jalen Hurts is a problem for the 49ers and Jones says he’s been ‘kept up at night’ by Eagles star

And then you look at all of the other guys that we have. Brandon Aiyuk runs the best routes of anybody on the team. He’s precise. He does so many great things.

‘Deebo is an explosive animal, coming out of the backfield as well as catching the ball so he can pretty much do anything.

‘But the trajectory of this season changed when ownership made the trade for Christian McCaffrey, one heck of a running back and a heck of an athlete.

‘The thing that really challenges defenses is his receiving skills. You can line him up in the slot, you can run him out of the backfield and he is like a No 1 wide receiver. And to have that at the running back position creates so many match-up problems, because eventually he’s going against the fourth or fifth best coverage guy and so he can really create problems in the secondary.

‘And his abilities have allowed teams to focus so much on him that they focus less on Deebo and Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle.

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‘It’s almost like you have to pick your poison because you try to stop one guy and somebody else is going to hurt you. Very much a mirror image to the Philadelphia Eagles offense.’

The Brock Purdy story is one that has captivated the sporting world and Jones has been equally enamored with the 23-year-old quarterback, the 262nd and final pick of the 2022 draft.

Christian McCaffrey has been nursing an injury but says he will play in Sunday's huge game

Christian McCaffrey has been nursing an injury but says he will play in Sunday’s huge game

‘Just a remarkable young kid. You’re even challenged to make the team when you’re picked that late in the draft. But he did something that everybody talks about, but very few do. He knew the offense backwards and forwards. He was prepared to play. He had the right demeanor, the right attitude, and he stepped in.

‘He has come in and not just been a game manager. He’s been aggressive. Kyle Shanahan calls plays like he’s a 10-year veteran. He’s throwing the ball down the field. He’s rolling out to his weak side. He’s throwing the ball across the field. He’s been very accurate. He’s been very thoughtful with the ball. 

‘That’s usually the biggest challenge with young players. They don’t realize the measurements in the NFL and how fast and how quickly guys can close the gaps and intercept balls or get in your throwing lane. But he’s been able to account for that and been so impressive and he’s brought this team within one game of a Super Bowl.

‘It’s been a remarkable turnaround – I’ve never seen anything in my lifetime like this.’

And finally, the 49ers have waited 27 years to claim their sixth Super Bowl. Could this be the year?

‘Man it feels like it’s out of a storybook,’ Jones says, ‘I believe it is, and man what a hell of a story it’s gonna be!’

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