49ers overcome first half struggles, hold off Commanders on Christmas Eve in 37-20 win

Dec 24, 2022, 6:44 PM

George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates a touchdown during the third quarter in the...

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 24: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates a touchdown during the third quarter in the game against the Washington Commanders at Levi's Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

A Christmas Eve game can sometimes be wacky, and that it was for the San Francisco 49ers this year.

The 49ers overcame a rocky first half performance to defeat the Washington Commanders, 37-20. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Red & Gold got the job down to keep them in the driver’s seat in the NFC playoff picture.

Coming off 10 days rest, San Francisco came out of the gate sluggish, only able to score once in the entire first half. Their lone score came in the second quarter, when wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud took an end-around run to the house. Taking a handoff from quarterback Brock Purdy, McCloud raced through the open hole to turn it into a foot race down the far sideline. With no one able to catch the speedster, the 49ers scored from 71 yards out, giving them the lead, 7-0.

The Commanders were let back into the game though, after WR Jauan Jennings bobbled a slant pass into the air, allowing cornerback Darrick Forrest to intercept the pass inside 49ers’ territory. Eight plays later, Washington found their first points of the game in the form of a TD pass from QB Taylor Heinicke to WR Jahan Dotson in the back of the endzone.

7-7 going into halftime.

The Red & Gold controlled the game after that, taking their first possession of the second half to the house on seven plays. Going 76 yards in four and a half minutes, the 49ers capped the drive off with an absolute dime from Purdy to tight end George Kittle from 33 yards out for the score.

14-7 in favor of San Francisco.

A play originally designed for McCloud, Kittle decided to go to the open space in the middle instead of running a crossing route. He didn’t feel too bad about it though, as the TD was all that mattered in the end.

“Why, because I grinched it?” Kittle replied with a big smile. “No, I think I’ve had five touchdowns taken away for penalties. So I’m gonna get them whenever they’re available.”

The next series was the biggest momentum-swinger of the game.

Facing a fourth & 1 at their own 34-yard line, the Commanders went for it with a Heinicke QB sneak, getting stonewalled by the 49ers’ stout D-line. The chains were needed for the spot of the ball, coming just short of the first down marker in the end to give SF the ball inside their opponent’s territory.

Two plays later, the 49ers capitalized with a play-action bootleg to the left, finding Kittle for the score once again. The tight end took the ball from the 33-yard-line, racing past Commanders to find the endzone, making the score 21-7 in the third quarter.

Kittle also made a bit of history Saturday, becoming the first 49ers pass-catcher to score multiple TDs in bad-to-back contests since Terrell Owens in 2002. He finished the day with six catches for 120 yards and two TDs, giving the credit to his team for making it possible.

“Football is all about taking advantage of the opportunity,” Kittle said postgame. “Our teams playing at a high level, we had a couple of mistakes on offense but I think we’re gonna clean those up. I think we’re better than last week when we were in Seattle, our defense continues to play at a high level. Some things we got to finish in the red zone. But no, it’s fun to do stuff like that, but I can’t do that without everybody else on the team.”

Despite the momentum, Washington bounced back with a quick TD thanks to the play of Pro Bowl wideout Terry McLaurin. Going down the field in four plays, “Scary Terry” caught a 51-yard bomb that put his team inside the redzone. A couple plays later, Heinicke found McLaurin again, this time in the back of the endzone.

21-14 towards the end of the third quarter.

San Francisco’s defense came alive after that, holding the Commanders to seven points in the fourth quarter. The first series of the final quarter ended in a fumble for Washington, after defensive end Nick Bosa forced Heinicke to caught up the football, falling in the hands of DL Jordan Willis for the turnover.

That was Bosa’s second sack of the game, bringing his total to a league-leading 17.5 on the season. While the all-time record of 22 sacks is within reach, Bosa is eyeing a different record, one close to 49ers faithful everywhere.

“It’s not the main thing on my mind, kind of eyeing [Aldon Smith’s franchise record] 19.5 more than that,” Bosa stated.

The next series the 49ers forced another turnover, this time by Sacramento native DL Arik Armstead. Coming off the edge, Armstead rocked Heinicke into throwing a bad ball that was picked off by safety Jimmie Ward. Initially ruled a touchdown, Ward was down by contact at the Commanders’ 25-yard-line.

San Francisco couldn’t get the full six points, only coming away with a field goal to make the score 30-14 in the fourth quarter.

Washington attempted to rally back, putting QB Carson Wentz in for the final minutes of the game. He eventually found WR Curtis Samuel for the touchdown, making the score, 30-20, with less than five and a half minutes to go.

But the 49ers came through when it mattered most, taking a short field down to the goal-line in eight plays. Running back Christian McCaffrey closed the game with a one-yard score to put it out of reach for their opponents.

A game with ebbs and flows, the 49ers have now won eight-straight games, putting their record at 11-4 on the year. Rookie QB Brock Purdy finished the game with 234 yards passing, two TDs and one INT. He is now also the second QB since 1950 to have a 100+ passer rating in his first three starts. The only other QB: Hall-of-famer Dan Marino.

“I’m super impressed with just how he’s matured so quickly, and I think it helps that he started four years in college,” Bosa said about Purdy. “I think for a rookie to come in and just have that command [of the offense] and everybody’s got his guys back obviously.”


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