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Josh Johnson, the 49ers’ 4th string QB playing in NFC Championship, explained

SB Nation logo SB Nation 1/29/2023 Bernd Buchmasser
© Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers entered the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles down to their third-string quarterback. After losing both Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo to injury, they had to turn to Brock Purdy — the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, who led the team to a perfect 7-0 record as a starter.

However, Purdy himself went down in the first quarter against the Eagles. Enter Josh Johnson.

Who? Glad you asked.

Who is Josh Johnson?

Playing college football at San Diego, Johnson originally entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick by the Buccaneers in 2008. With Tampa Bay having an established starting quarterback in the fold in Jeff Garcia, however, the young passer was facing an uphill battle for any significant playing time.

Unsurprisingly, he did not see any as a rookie. He was, however, thrust into the starting lineup in Year 2 — starting four games for the Bucs in 2009. His brief starting tenure did not go well, however: Tampa Bay went 0-4 and Johnson completed only half of his passes while throwing eight interceptions to four touchdowns.

He only started one more game for the team before leaving for the 49ers in 2012. Of course, that stint with the Niners is not the same as his current one. Quite the opposite, actually, as a look at his Wikipedia page shows:

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2008–2011)
  • San Francisco 49ers (2012)*
  • Sacramento Mountain Lions (2012)
  • Cleveland Browns (2012)
  • Cincinnati Bengals (2013)
  • San Francisco 49ers (2014)*
  • Cincinnati Bengals (2015)*
  • New York Jets (2015)*
  • Indianapolis Colts (2015)
  • Buffalo Bills (2015)
  • Baltimore Ravens (2016)*
  • New York Giants (2016)
  • Houston Texans (2017)
  • Oakland Raiders (2018)*
  • Washington Redskins (2018)
  • San Diego Fleet (2019)
  • Detroit Lions (2019)*
  • Los Angeles Wildcats (2020)
  • San Francisco 49ers (2020–2021)*
  • New York Jets (2021)
  • Baltimore Ravens (2021)
  • Denver Broncos (2022)
  • San Francisco 49ers (2022–present)

In case you were keeping score, that is 14 different NFL franchises — i.e. 43.8 percent of the league — as well as one team each in the UFL, AAF and XFL. Two of Johnson’s teams, the Sacramento Mountain Lions and San Diego Fleet, don’t even exist anymore; neither do the leagues they were playing in.

Johnson is the journeyman to end all journeymen. And yet, here he is playing postseason football.

Why is he playing for the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game?

As noted above, the 49ers entered the NFC title game against the Eagles down to their third-string quarterback. Original starter Trey Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2; his replacement, Jimmy Garoppolo, went down in Week 13 with a foot ailment.

San Francisco losing its top-two a the position led to Mr. Irrelevant himself, Brock Purdy, to take over the team. Purdy did an admirable job executing the Kyle Shanahan offense, leading the club all the way to the NFC title game.

On his sixth snap of the day, however, Purdy suffered a right elbow injury. With him off to the locker room, it was time for Josh Johnson to play the first postseason snaps of his career.


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