BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The San Francisco 49ers won their eighth game in a row Sunday afternoon, scoring on six of seven second-half possessions to break open a defensive struggle on the way to a 37–20 win over the Washington Commanders at Levi’s Stadium.
Brock Purdy remained undefeated since taking over at quarterback, connecting with George Kittle on a pair of touchdown passes as the Niners remained in hot pursuit of the Minnesota Vikings for the number two seed in the NFL playoffs.
San Francisco (11-4) trails the Vikings by a game with two remaining following Minnesota’s last second win over the New York Giants on a 61 yard field goal. If the two teams tie the 49ers would win the tiebreaker based on a better conference record.
The teams went into the locker room tied 7-7 at the half as both teams struggled against the other’s defense. The Niners got on the board first when Ray-Ray McCloud broke free for a 71 yard touchdown run mid-way thru the second quarter. Washington would counter in the closing seconds of the half when Taylor Heinicke found Jahan Dotson in the end zone for a four yard touchdown pass.
The 49ers took over the game in the third, with Purdy finding Kittle for a pair of scoring strikes. On their opening drive of the second half, Purdy connected with the tight end down the middle for a 34 yard touchdown pass, and just over five minutes later he found Kittle again near the left sideline on a 33 yard catch and run to take a 21-7 lead.
Heinicke wasted little time getting the Commanders back into the game, hitting Terry McLaurin for a three yard score just two plays after they hooked up for a 51 yard reception. Three straight Robbie Gould field goals stretched San Francisco’s lead back up to 30-14 and a one yard touchdown run by Christian McCaffrey just before the two minute warning provided the final margin.
Purdy finished the game 15-22 for 234 yards with the two scores and an interception. Kittle hauled in six passes for 120 yards with two touchdowns and Brandon Aiyuk added five catches for 81 yards. Heinicke finished 13-18 for 166 yards with two scores and a pick for Washington before being replaced by Carson Wentz mid way thru the fourth quarter. Wentz responded by going 12-16 for 123 yards and a 20 yard scoring strike to Curtis Samuel.
After the game, the Niners poised rookie QB heaped praise on their All-Pro tight end. ““I mean, just his energy and what he brings to the team every single day. What he just tells the team and stuff in terms of just keeping everything loose. I feel like when, times we sort of feel uptight and whatnot, Kittle is like the guy to put a smile on your face and like say, hey, we’re good enough, that kind of thing. Very fortunate to have him in our locker room. He does bring energy and good vibes to everyone, and honestly, I do feel like he gets us back into the zone of playing well. That’s what he does, and I think he’s the best in the NFL with just his personality and everything. We love George.”
With no worse than the third seed in the NFC already secure, the 49ers return to the field on New Years Day for their first trip to Las Vegas to battle the Raiders in a 1:05pm start.
Purdy becomes one of just eight players since 1950 to register two or more touchdown passes in each of their first three career starts and joins Hall of Famer Dan Marino as the only QB’s since 1950 with at least two touchdown passes and a passer rating of 100-or-higher in each of his first three career starts. He also becomes the first QB in franchise history to win his first three NFL starts.
Nick Bosa’a 17.5 sacks this season are tied for the second most in a single season in franchise history, trailing only Aldon Smith’s 19.5 in 2012. He has at least one sack in 12 games this season, making him one of only four players in the NFL since 1982 with 12 or more games with at least one sack in a single season.