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Chance to bounce back as playoffs approach

SANTA CLARA — The 49ers were last seen in Washington doing celebratory belly slides on the dirt at FedEx Field and proclaiming themselves “2019 Mud Bowl Champions.”

This was a few months before they became NFC champions. They return Sunday with championship aspirations, more so of the Super Bowl type, but an NFC title would be enough along the way.

Conditions should be cool but not rainy or muddy when the 49ers (11-4) take on the Commanders (4-11) in the penultimate game of the regular season.

This could be the 49ers’ last away game until Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas on February 11. Or maybe not. Monday night’s 33-19 loss to the Baltimore Ravens narrowed the 49ers’ window to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, but that remains very viable and will be detailed below in this weekly preview Match.

TOP STORIES

1. HEALTH UPDATES: None of Monday night’s injuries seem too serious, but they draw more attention when they involve quarterback Brock Purdy (shoulder stinger) and his blindside protectors, left tackle Trent Williams (groin), left guard Aaron Banks (toe) and backup tackle Jaylon Moore. (concussion). Purdy’s mental makeup will also be scrutinized as he finishes his first career four-interception game.

2. SPOILER ALERT: The Commanders nearly avoided a sixth straight loss Saturday, when they rallied from a 20-0 deficit against the New York Jets and even took a lead in the fourth quarter before losing on a last-second field goal. Coach Ron Rivera’s club is struggling, and last season’s home finale saw them topple the Cowboys in the playoffs. Then again, they’re allowing a season-high 30.2 points per game, and coach Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers are scoring the third-highest in the NFL (29.6 points per game).

3. THE RETURN OF CHASE: Defensive end Chase Young was lost Monday night for the first time since the 49ers traded him for a third-round pick. Young, the Commanders’ No. 2 overall draft pick in 2020, provided the best presence opposite Nick Bosa in years, just as the 49ers hoped to reunite those Ohio State teammates. Young has just 2 ½ sacks and five quarterback hits in seven games with the 49ers, and a breakout game appears to be coming.

4. QUARTERBACK SWITCH: Sam Howell took advantage of this season to serve as Washington’s starting quarterback, until he was benched for Jacoby Brissett in back-to-back games. Howell has thrown an NFL-high 17 interceptions and has completed just 40.8 percent of his passes over the past three games.

5. AURA OF DEFENSE: Giving up 33 points to the Ravens was somewhat understandable (see; five interceptions), but the 49ers allowed points on seven straight drives for the first time since 2005. This happened after the 49ers gave up 29 points to the Ravens. Arizona in the previous game, their last road game. game. This defense needs to tighten up for the playoffs, even though the per game stats are impressive this season: 17.8 points (No. 2 in the NFL), 90.3 rushing yards (No. 3) and 312, 3 yards total (#11).

PHOTO OF THE ELIMINARIES

If the 49ers bounce back and hand the Commanders their seventh straight loss, then the No. 1 seed could be on the charter flight to Santa Clara, but only if the Detroit Lions (11-4) lose Saturday to the Dallas Cowboys (10-4). 5) coupled with a surprise defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles (11-4), Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals (3-12).

Otherwise, the NFC West champion 49ers will have to wait until Week 18, where they meet a red-hot Rams team at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday or Sunday, January 6 or 7. The Rams (8-7) have won 5 of 6 since their bye, with the only loss coming 37-31 to the Ravens. Other games of note from week 18: the Lions host the Vikings, the Eagles are at the Giants, the Cowboys are at the Commanders.

LAST MEETING

The 49ers won 37-20 at Levi’s Stadium last season on Christmas Eve, as the Commanders replaced quarterback Taylor Heinicke with Carson Wentz. It was Purdy’s second home start, and he delivered two touchdown passes to George Kittle (six catches, 120 yards). Kittle, by the way, had 126 yards Monday night for his 17th career 100-yard game, tying Gene Washington for third on the 49ers behind Jerry Rice (66) and Terrell Owens (25).

HISTORY OF THE SERIES

The 49ers lead 22-12-1. They are 4-2 at FedEx Field, including a 26-24 loss in 2017 in Shanahan’s first year as coach and a shutout victory in 2019.

INJURY MONITORING

49ers

QB Brock Purdy (shoulder stinger)

LT Trent Williams (groin)

LG Aaron Banks (toe)

DT Arik Armstead (foot, knee)

CB Ambry Thomas (hamstring)

RB Elijah Mitchell (knee)

LB Oren Burks (knee)

TE Ross Dwelley (ankle)

Commanders

RB Brian Robinson (knee)

RB Chris Rodriguez Jr. (ankle)

OT Charles Leno (calf)

C Tyler Larsen (knee)

RT Andrew Wylie (elbow)

CB Benjamin St-Juste (concussion)

MILESTONE WATCH

— Purdy’s 4,050 passing yards leave him 229 yards shy of breaking Jeff Garcia’s single-season franchise record (4,278 in 2000) and 121 short of passing Steve Young for second (4,170; 1998) .

— Christian McCaffrey’s 21 touchdowns are two shy of Jerry Rice’s single-season franchise record (1987) and he’s tied for the NFL lead with former 49er Raheem Mostert (Miami Dolphins).

— McCaffrey is poised to become the NFL’s leading rusher and win his first single-season title, and the first for the 49ers since Joe Perry in 1953 and 1954. McCaffrey (1,395 yards) has a commanding lead over Kyren Williams of the Rams (1,057), James Cook of the Bills (1,038) and Mostert of the Dolphins (1,012).

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