49ers dominate Commanders on the road; Clinch No.1 seed with Eagles loss

Dec 31, 2023, 2:30 PM | Updated: 2:43 pm

Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers leaves the field after a game against the Washington Com...

LANDOVER, MARYLAND - DECEMBER 31: Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers leaves the field after a game against the Washington Commanders at FedExField on December 31, 2023 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

It was a bit sloppy at times, but the 49ers took care of business on the road, handling the Commanders with ease on New Year’s Eve.

The San Francisco bounced back in a big way Week 17, defeating the Washington Commanders, 27-10, on the road Sunday. Heading to the east coast on a short week, the 49ers needed a win to keep their #1 seed hopes alive. And that they did, with a little help from others sealing the deal for the Red & Gold.

Here’s what happened.

The 49ers offense got going early, going on a long drive on the opening possession of the day. Quarterback Brock Purdy was a big part of that, converting a third and three using his legs. Then, running back Christian McCaffrey got going, taking an outside zone run to the right for 13 yards. Next, a holding call by Commanders defense back Tariq Castro-Fields put the 49ers inside the redzone.

San Francisco was halted there after, with a screen pass to McCaffrey snuffed out by Washington. Purdy has to throw the ball away on third down, forcing kicker Jake Moody to try the field goal from 38 yards.

He made it, making the score 3-0 after an almost seven-minute drive.

On the flip side, the Commanders offense went three and out to start the day. QB Sam Howell almost threw his first INT of the game, but cornerback Deommodore Lenoir dropped it to force fourth down.

San Francisco picked up where they left on next, going down the field on a nine-play drive.

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel got loose on an end around to start, going for ten yards. Purdy had to make more magic though, forced into a third and nine situation. The QB responded with a cross-hash throw to WR Brandon Aiyuk for 17 yards to convert once more. he then hit Samuel for 16-yard slant to put them in the redzone.

McCaffrey did some work next, chewing up 10 yards to get first and goal. A few plays later, Samuel got a touch pass to the left and walked into the endzone for six.

10-0 49ers by the end of the first quarter.

The Commanders weren’t rolling over however, getting points on their next two possessions.

RB Brian Robinson Jr. got going on the first drive, taking a run for 12 yards to start. Then, he got a screen pass, running past 49ers defenders for a 22-yard scamper to end the quarter.

The 49ers defense still tall thereafter, with defensive end Nick Bosa getting a big tackle on Howell to force a third and long. The young QB had nowhere to go, forced to throw it away on the next down.

On came the field-goal unit, converting to make it 10-3.

On the other end, San Francisco only had four plays next on offense, forced to punt it away quickly.

Washington responded with another big drive, going 79 yards on nine plays.

The possession was blown open thanks to Howell and WR Terry McLaurin, getting loose for a 42-yard completion on third down. A few plays later, the QB went back to McLaurin, hauling in a three-yard pass for the touchdown.

10-10 was the score with 4:33 left in the first half.

San Francisco responded with a good drive of 10 plays next, eating up the clock simultaneously.

Purdy got it going with throws to tight end George Kittle for 18 yards, and Aiyuk for 22 yards. Then, McCaffrey got going again, running for 13 yards to put the 49ers in the redzone. Sadly, SF’s offense stalled after CMC got a first and goal, unable to convert near the goal-line on second and third down.

Forced to take three points, Moody converted again to make the score 13-10 at the break.

The 49ers had had enough at that point, locking in for the final 30 minutes. San Francisco’s defense did so first, forcing a three-and-out to open the second half.

Then, Purdy and offense woke up, going on a seven-minute drive next. Using half of the third quarter, the 49ers marched down the field and converted for six more points. And it came from unlikely characters as well.

McCaffrey started it off, taking a checkdown pass 10 yards for a first down. But then, he walked off the field in pain, massaging his right calf vigorously. On came backup RB Elijah Mitchell, picked up the slack for his teammate via a seven-yard scamper for first down. Then, a facemask call against the Commanders gave the 49ers another 15 yards.

Now inside the redzone, Mitchell converted a third and 1 for six yards, giving the 49ers first and goal. The RB got the rock on the next two plays, eventually walking in for the touchdown.

20-10, with the 49ers back in control.

The Commanders weren’t going away though, marching down the field on 10 plays. Howell was a part of that, hooking up with WR Curtis Samuel for a 25-yard catch to get a first down. Then, RB Antonio Gibson managed a screen pass for 15 yards, and a run of 16 to put the home team in the redzone.

The third quarter ended, 20-10, but with Washington knocking on the door.

Then, the 49ers bend-don’t-break defense made the biggest play of the day.

Forcing the Commanders into third and long, Howell tried to thread the needle to McLaurin. 49ers CB Charvarius Ward saw the play and broke on it, picking of the QB before going down at the five-yard-line. No.5 on the year for Ward, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the 49ers.

San Francisco responded with a 10-play drive of their own, going 95 yards to the house.

With CMC on the sidelines, Mitchell stepped up, taking a run for 15 yards on the first play. Purdy made some magic next, hitting fullback Kyle Juszyczk for first downs. Then, the QB took a deep shot, hitting Aiyuk in stride for a 38-yard completion.

Now in the redzone, SF had to overcome a holding call on WR Ronnie Bell to score. They did so thanks to Purdy, evading the pressure before running to his right. The signal-caller surveyed and found Aiyuk in the endzone, launching a great ball for six points.

27-10 read the scoreboard, with the contest all but over.

The Commanders struggled to regain their footing afterwards, with Howell getting hit as he threw on the second play of the next series. Lenoir had the jump on the pass this time, picking it off to set the 49ers up for the win with less than nine minutes remaining.

San Francisco went eight plays on offense next, eventually turning it over on downs.

Before that however, Brock Purdy made history by becoming the 49ers single-season leader in passing yards, passing Jeff Garcia (4,281). He fined the game with 230 yards passing, tow TDs and a 124.7 passer rating. Despite only being 24, the gunslinger has cemented his place with the Red & Gold, a massive achievement after a horrific showing last Monday.

“He studied his tail off all week,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game about Purdy. “I thought it was a hell of a deal for him. I mean, a lot of real good quarterbacks have been in this organization. And, just being told in [the locker room] that he broke the record for all-time yards in a year [for a 49ers QB]. That’s a pretty big accomplishment by him and everyone else in there.”

On top of Purdy’s accolades, Kittle also broke the 1,000-yard mark for receiving yards, the first time since 2019. Additionally, McCaffrey broke the 2,000-scrimmage yards barrier for the first time since 2019.

A big day for both individual and team accomplishments, with San Francisco cruising to the finish line after the second Howell pick. 27-10 was the final score.

The 49ers got the biggest win of all after the game, watching as the Arizona Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 35-31. With the Eagles’ loss and the 49ers’ win, the former have locked up the No.1 seed in the NFC, giving the Red & Gold a bye week in the playoffs.

While the 49ers still have one more regular-season contest against the Los Angeles Rams Week 18, having the conference locked up a week early is as sweet as ever.

“Thank you Cardinals,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said with a smile postgame.

“I was just a little kid dreaming of playing in the NFL, and to be able to do something like that is pretty cool,” Purdy said on getting home-field advantage in the postseason.

The 49ers will now look to close out the regular season at home against the Rams. But with nothing to play for, Week 18 may be a rest week for several starters, including Christian McCaffrey. The star ballcarrier reportedly has a calf strain, and will use the next few weeks to recover the best he can before the postseason.

“We think he’ll be alright,” Shanahan added. “I don’t know if he would have been able to go next week or not, but we’ll find out more tomorrow.”

Upcoming San Francisco 49ers Schedule

  • Sunday, Jan. 7th vs. Los Angeles Rams – TBD
  • NFL Playoffs (TBD)

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