49ers emerge from defensive showdown vs. Commanders with a win
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers and Commanders were expected to engage in a defensive masterclass in Week 16, but the Niners eventually pulled away thanks to George Kittle.
Perhaps the only way the playoff-desperate Washington Commanders would hang in against the red-hot NFC West-champion San Francisco 49ers in Week 16 would be if head coach Ron Rivera’s defense kept things close.
And for the better part of three quarters, that was the case.
Sure, the Niners pulled off a 37-20 victory at Levi’s Stadium to improve to 11-4 on the year, but the game was much closer than that final would indicate. Additionally, while San Francisco can be a bit frustrated at not being able to climb in the conference-playoff seeding in the wake of the No. 2-seeded Minnesota Vikings also winning earlier on the day, at least head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad didn’t lose any ground in that particular race either.
However, Saturday’s race against the Commanders to 20-plus points was quite the struggle even though Shanahan and Co. were able to pour it on late.
Running back Christian McCaffrey struggled to get going on the ground against a good Washington defense that entered the game allowing teams an average of 4.6 rush yards per carry. Ultimately, McCaffrey had only 46 yards rushing on 15 carries with a garbage-time touchdown.
Instead, it was wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud’s 71-yard rushing touchdown that opened up the scoring for the 49ers:
One can thank the Niners’ own defense, too, for staving off an excellent Commanders scoring opportunity on the San Francisco 1-yard line on the previous drive.
That said, the score at halftime was only 7-7, and Washington was doing plenty to frustrate quarterback Brock Purdy and the 49ers offense.
Until tight end George Kittle came alive.
49ers ensure George Kittle stays hot with 2nd multi-TD game
The week prior, Kittle recorded two touchdowns in the Niners’ Week 15 division-clinching win over the Seattle Seahawks, and it was about time San Francisco decided to make him a big part of the offensive game plan.
Particularly after Kittle had been somewhat quiet for much of the season up to that point.
Purdy finding some rhythm with Kittle was a great development versus the Hawks, and that continued against Washington.
Especially on a deep 34-yard touchdown pass by Purdy to Kittle to break the tie in the third quarter:
Purdy would find Kittle again on a short pass, and the 2022 Pro Bowler would do the rest by accumulating 27 yards after the catch en route to crossing the goal line, and that made it 21-7 in favor of the 49ers at the time.
Overall, Kittle finished the day with six catches for 120 yards and two scores, and Week 16 marked the first time all year in which he had at least 100 yards.
Hard to believe, but it’s true.
Brock Purdy, 49ers stay hot by winning 8 straight
The Niners haven’t lost since that forgettable Week 7 game at home against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Yet the recent hot streak by San Francisco, which now includes eight consecutive wins, is thanks largely to Purdy, who is playing with serious oblique and rib injuries in relief of the also-injured quarterbacks, Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo.
With Purdy and Kittle sparking the offense, EDGE Nick Bosa and the defense responded with some critical plays in the second half, including a strip-sack by Bosa on Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke that gave the ball back to the 49ers. With safety Jimmie Ward’s fourth-quarter interception and McCaffrey’s score, Washington’s last chances to stage a comeback dissipated.
Read More: Streaking 49ers stay hot en route to NFC playoff berth
Meanwhile, Bosa increased his NFL sack lead to 17.5 after picking up two more on Saturday.
The Niners now have two more games left in the regular season, Week 17 at the Las Vegas Raiders and then Week 18 at home versus the Arizona Cardinals.
Trailing Minnesota by one game in the conference standings, Purdy and the rest of the Niners have to win and then hope the Vikings lose either one of their next two games.
Regardless, San Francisco continues to play hot and will celebrate the Christmas holiday on a high note.