LANDOVER, Md. — The 49ers weren’t exactly headed for a decisive victory Sunday. Then came the fourth quarter and some appropriate heroics.
First, cornerback Charvarius Ward rushed to throw an interception near their goal line.
A few minutes later, Brock Purdy reversed the field to keep out of trouble, directed Brandon Aiyuk to a happy spot in the end zone and, voila, a third-down 17-yard touchdown pass made the lead 27 -10 to the 49ers.
It was just the complementary football we needed. They had turned a takeaway into a touchdown. They had regained the confidence and boldness that they had lacked most of the day.
Coming away with a 27-10 victory over the last-but-pesky Washington Commanders, the 49ers (12-4) secured a spot among the top two seeds for the NFC playoffs, the top seed No. 1 still within their reach heading into next weekend’s regular season finale against the Los Angeles Rams.
Meanwhile, 128 miles up the East Coast, the Philadelphia Eagles were struggling against the last-place but pesky Arizona Cardinals. An Eagles loss would guarantee the No. 1 seed to the 49ers.
Although the NFC West champion 49ers bounced back from their Christmas night loss to the AFC-leading Baltimore Ravens, they came away with an injury to a very important player: Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey’s right calf forced him out late in the third quarter, just minutes after he found himself on the sidelines using a therapeutic massage gun on his left hamstring and quad. Elijah Mitchell was called upon for his most significant play in over a year, and his 80 rushing yards included a 2-yard touchdown run for a 20-10 lead late in the third quarter.
Purdy became the 49ers’ all-time single-season leader in passing yards (4,280) while rebounding strong from his first career four-interception game (and his second in a row with nerve pain in his back). ‘left shoulder). Of Purdy’s 230 yards on 22-of-28 passing, his best came on the 49ers’ final drive, with a 38-yard completion to Aiyuk setting up their improvised 18-yard touchdown.
Having already blown a 10-point lead in the first half, the 49ers were on the verge of losing part of that 20-10 lead, until Ward threw his fifth interception this season. Ward cut past Washington ace receiver Terry McLaurin to make the big steal at the 2-yard line, courtesy of Sam Howell’s NFL-high 18th interception.
Howell was supposed to be benched this game, but he was pushed back into the starting role once Jacoby Brissett injured his hamstring during Thursday’s practice. Deommodore Lenoir made another interception before the end of the fourth quarter.
The 49ers took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, but Howell pulled the Commanders into a 10-10 tie, and although the 49ers took a 13-10 lead into halftime, it didn’t was not the expected lopsided affair between a leading NFC team and last place host.
Jake Moody’s two field goals came as consolation prizes on first-half drives that were stalled due to negative plays. On the first drive, Christian McCaffrey was stuffed for a 5-yard loss on a catch in the red zone, and, on the last drive before halftime, McCaffrey lost 3 yards on a first-and-goal 1.
The 49ers were ball monopolists in the first quarter, eating up 12 and a half minutes on their two scoring drives. Moody kicked a 38-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead, then Deebo Samuel scored on a 2-yard scoop pass from Purdy to make it 10-0. It was Samuel’s seventh touchdown of the season, a career-high.
For Purdy, it was his 30th touchdown pass, the first 49ers quarterback to reach that mark since Jeff Garcia in 2001. The only 49ers quarterbacks to throw at least 30 in a season are Steve Young (36 in 1998, 35 in 1994). ), Garcia (32 in 2001, 31 in 2000), Joe Montana (31 in 1987) and John Brodie (30 in 1965).
The 49ers’ 10-0 lead evaporated 4 1/2 minutes before halftime. Washington’s first points, like those of the 49ers, came on a field goal, then it was McLaurin who tied the score on a third-and-goal from 3 yards against Ambry Thomas. Earlier on that drive, McLaurin caught a 42-yard bomb on third-and-2 against Lenoir.
Before it was all said and done, Brandon Aiyuk left with 114 yards, Deebo Samuel racked up 72 all-purpose yards and George Kittle’s 29 yards pushed him over the 1,000 receiving yard mark for the first times since he did it in the 2017 and ’18 seasons.
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