Christmas came early in Santa Clara, as the 49ers delivered a 37-20 beat down on the Washington Commanders to push their current win streak to eight games. Here are my five takeaways from the emphatic win:
The 49ers' defensive line remains the backbone of this team
Once again, a resounding 49ers victory is spearheaded by the unit that has defined the recent run of success under Kyle Shanahan over the last few years. The defensive line. The dominance the 49ers have displayed up front has set the tone for the rest of their number-one-ranked defense, and their ability to maul opponents in the trenches is the defining characteristic that makes this team a bonafide title contender.
Let’s start with Nick Bosa, who is undoubtedly the runaway favorite for this season's defensive player of the year award. Bosa delivered yet another breathtaking performance that served as yet another reminder that the 49ers' star edge rusher is firmly in the discussion for the most talented defensive player in the league.
Bosa had two sacks in this game, to go along with eight pressures, a forced fumble, and two QB hits. That also doesn’t include the sack Bosa had on Washington’s failed two-point attempt, which kept the 49ers up by two scores late in the fourth quarter and all but shut the door on any chance the Commanders had at coming back.
While Bosa has been phenomenal, what makes this unit so special is the depth they possess from top to bottom that allows the frontline starters to remain fresh, proving crucial when the time comes to closeout games.
Eight different defensive linemen recorded a pressure against the Commanders, making it the third straight game that at least eight defensive linemen had at least one pressure for the 49ers.
Charles Omenihu continues to be one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the entire league, posting his fifth game of the season with at least five pressures and his 8th game this season with at least three or more. Omenihu has also logged at least one pressure in every game this season.
However, it wasn’t just the pass rushing that stood out in this one, as the return of Javon Kinlaw played major dividends for the 49ers' efforts to slow down a Commanders rushing attack that had run for over 125 yards in six consecutive games heading into this contest.
Washington was held to just 79 yards on 33 carries, for an average of just 2.4 yards per carry. That included a heroic goal-line stand on a drive where the Commanders' offense ran the ball four times inside the 49ers' 5-yard line, including two plays inside the 1-yard line without coming away with a single point.
That stand came on the heels of a 17-play, 84-yard drive where the Commanders came away with nothing, providing a true momentum shift while the two teams exchanged blows early on.
The 49ers are a legitimate title contender simply because of their ability to generate pressure consistently with any combination of players at their disposal that they choose to deploy to the front four at any given time. However, the defensive line was not the only unit that shined in the trenches...
The offensive line shines against its toughest test to date
When discussing the elite defensive lines in the NFL, the conversation starts with the 49ers, but just behind them, you can make a case for Washington and the elite group of talent they themselves possess on the defensive line.
While the new-look 49ers offensive line has far exceeded expectations this season, this matchup with Washington presented them with their toughest test to date. Would the young interior offensive linemen be able to hold their own against a vaunted defensive tackle pairing of Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen? How would the tackles fare against a tremendously talented edge duo of Montez Sweat and Chase Young?
Not only did they hold their own, they decisively won this titanic matchup in the trenches and did their part to keep Brock Purdy upright about as well as you can against such a tough opponent.
The offensive line was only charged with four pressures in this game, with no individual player being charged with more than one. Aaron Banks posted his fourth clean sheet of the season, and rookie Spencer Burford posted his twelfth game of one or fewer pressures to add to what has been a stellar debut season for the UTSA product.
But no performance was finer than what we saw from Trent Williams, who did not allow a single pressure on 26 pass-blocking snaps against his former team. An inspiring group effort for a unit that has overachieved all season and will look to continue to do so heading into the postseason.
George Kittle has stepped up when the 49ers have needed him most
Kittle continued his red-hot streak by logging his second multi-touchdown game in as many weeks in the 49ers' win over Washington. Kittle finished the game with six catches for 120 yards and stretched his new career high for touchdown passes to eight with two games remaining to build on that total.
What stands out the most about Kittle’s dominance is the way he has performed in the absence of arguably the 49ers' most dynamic offensive weapon in Deebo Samuel. With the touches that normally are allocated to Samuel up for grabs, Kittle maximized the extra opportunities he was given.
This is a trend that stretches back to last season as well when one of Kittle’s most impressive games of his career came in a week 13 loss to Seattle, which was the only game Samuel missed last season. Here are Kittle’s numbers from the last three games that he has played while Samuel did not:
That’s a per-game average of:
Brockin’ around the Christmas tree
This entire run with Purdy under center has been one of the most memorable four-game stretches of 49ers football simply because of the sheer improbability of it all. What Purdy is doing right now is unprecedented, and there are numbers to back that up.
With the 49ers' win over the Commanders, Purdy became the first rookie quarterback since 1950 to win his first three starts in the NFL. He also joined Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino as the only quarterback since 1950 to record at least two touchdown passes and a passer rating over 100 in each of their first three starts.
The symbolism behind the latter is poetic in a way that I have struggled to wrap my mind around the more and more I think about it. Purdy wears the number 13 in honor of the Dolphins great, growing up learning of his greatness from his father, Shawn, a Dolphins fan.
There is even a picture of Shawn Purdy holding a baby Brock in front of a mural of Marino, which was prophetic in a way, given the circumstances. Imagine going back in time and telling Purdy that one day the baby in that picture would be an NFL quarterback who sat in an exclusive club that only he and Marino were members of.
Just another layer to this Purdy story that feels like it couldn’t have been written any better if it was a Hollywood script. Here is the aforementioned photo:
Imagine going back in time and telling Brock Purdy’s dad that the baby he is holding in this picture would one day join Dan Marino as the only other QB since 1950 to record at least two touchdown passes and a passer rating of 100+ in each of their first three starts in the NFL pic.twitter.com/4MtbKpKuVY— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) December 25, 2022
As I sat here writing this and taking in the holiday weekend, I spent some time reflecting on things I am grateful for. Family, friends, and my health will all be things that I am eternally appreciative of, but I couldn’t stop focusing on just how lucky I am to have fallen in love with the game of football and to have done so growing up immersed in the world of 49ers football.
For better or worse, this football team has given me some of my highest highs and also made me feel some of my lowest lows. But I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything, as it has led me to the path I am currently on that has me sitting here typing this.
And that in itself is the thing that I am most grateful for following this triumphant 49ers victory on Christmas Eve. To have a forum like this to share my thoughts and observations about the sport I love with passionate and dedicated fans of the team that introduced me to this fantastic game is something that I could never put a price on.
So thank you to all the loyal Niners Nation readers who are reading this. Without you, these would just be empty words on a screen. Thank you for all your comments and your feedback, but most importantly, thank you for your unrivaled passion for this football team, a devotion that brings us all together as we cherish the sport that we all love more than words can adequately describe.
I hope you all had a happy holiday weekend, and I wish you all nothing but the best in the coming year, with 2023 right around the corner!