The San Francisco 49ers offense took the field first. Aaron Banks was active, but Jon Feliciano started at left guard. Kyle Shanahan ran right behind Feliciano and Christian McCaffrey ran for a gain of nine yards.
Brock Purdy scrambled for a first down on 3rd & 3 to move the chains. After a pass to George Kittle and another sizeable gain from McCaffrey, the Niners were knocking on the door of the red zone.
Kyle Juszczyk nearly hauled in a deep pass, but couldn’t hold on to the ball through the ground. He did draw a defensive holding penalty, however. But a loss of five yards on second down brought up third and long on the opening drive, and the Niners would be forced to settle for a field goal.
The Commanders were down three starters along their offensive line. So, this game set up well for the Niners defensive line to pressure Sam Howell.
On the first drive, Deommodore Lenoir had two hands on the pass after jumping the route on third down, but couldn’t hang on.
Brock Purdy hooked up with Brandon Aiyuk twice on the second drive, with one putting the Niners into Washington territory. A Deebo Samuel 16-yard reception put the 49ers inside of the red zone. Samuel took an end around to give San Francisco a 10-0 lead.
Technically, it was a shovel pass. That meant Purdy was the second quarterback in 49ers history to throw for at least 30 touchdowns with 4,000 yards in the same season. The other player was Steve young, who you may have heard of. Young accomplished the feat in 1998.
Washington had a couple of shorter throws on their second drive that were aided by poor tackling. Eventually, they settled for a field goal to make it 10-3.
Jordan Mason returned the kick, which was a surprise, but a welcomed one. That would be the only welcome result on the drive, as it ended in a third down target to Ronnie Bell. That’s where the Niners missed Jauan Jennings once again. He’s automatic on third downs.
In Bell’s defense, he was well covered and Purdy could have gone elsewhere, but the play likely called for Bell to be the top answer.
Washington turned to Terry McLaurin on the following drive. He had an 11-yard reception, then beat Deommodore Lenoir on a slot fade for 42 yards. But the Niners did what most good defenses do, they made a tackle and forced Washington to snap the ball again.
On 3rd & goal, McLaurin caught a back shoulder fade against Ambry Thomas for a touchdown to even the score at ten. That capped off an 84-yard touchdown drive.
The adjustment seemed simple. You go out and pay a player like Mooney Ward to travel and defend wide receivers such as McLaurin. It’s not on Ambry Thomas or Deommodore Lenoir to defend McLaurin. That’s the reason why you go out and get a player like Mooney.
The offense didn’t have any issues moving the ball. George Kittle surpassed 1,000 yards on the next drive. San Francisco had ten plays of ten or more yards with just over two minutes to play in the second quarter. Aiyuk, Kittle, and McCaffrey each had plays greater than ten yards on the drive.
But running the ball was a challenge against Da’Ron Payne. Jake Brendel lost his 1-on-1 battle. For the second time in three red zone trips, the 49ers offense had to settle for a field goal.
Washington received the ball to begin the third quarter, but the defense didn’t allow Howell anywhere to throw the ball on third and short, and Clelin Ferrell was credited with a sack.
San Francisco had gains of 10, 11, and 9, to move into Washington territory. On 2nd & 3, Christian McCaffrey had his facemask grabbed to tack on 15 yards to put the ball in the red zone.
Could the 49ers capitalize? At halftime, Kyle Shanahan said he wanted to see more touchdowns. Elijah Mitchell was the running back inside of the 10-yard line, and would score his first touchdown of the season. That made it 20-10, Niners.
An illegal use of hands penalty was called on Nick Bosa. That made it 2nd & 20, but it didn’t matter, as Howell converted a 2nd & 20. Then, Antonio Gibson, after breaking a tackle from Lenoir, gained 15 yards on a screen pass. He ran for 16 yards on the very next play.
For a team down three starting linemen, Washington saw little resistance. The Commanders moved the ball inside the Niners red zone, but Mooney Ward stepped in front of McLaurin for an interception. It was the type of play that Mooney had made all season.
We probably saw the last of McCaffrey, as he was seen on the sideline with trainers. His official injury designation was a calf injury. McCaffrey was questionable to return.
That didn’t stop the Niners from being aggressive. Purdy found Aiyuk on a beautifully thrown 38-yard pass. Then, on 3rd down, when nobody was open and under duress, Purdy scrambled, turned his back to the pocket, and ended up finding Aiyuk for a 17-yard touchdown.
Lenoir got his revenge on Howell on the ensuing drive. He stepped in front of a Howell pass for the 49ers second consecutive interception in as many drives.
With a completion to Kittle on the next drive, Purdy became the franchise’s all-time passing leader. San Francisco had the ball on 4th & goal. They elected to go for it after the lack of scored in the red zone, but Mitchell was stuffed short and the Niners turned the ball over.
We’ll keep an eye on McCaffrey’s calf injury. The 49ers would be wise to shut him down until the playoffs. The 49ers are one step closer to the No. 1 seed.